It shouldn’t be surprising that Republicans are silent about Gaetz. After all, this is the party of Donald Trump. Twenty-five women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct—up to, and definitely including, rape. Even before he announced his candidacy, it was known that Trump had cheated on all three of his wives. During his time in office, it also became clear that Trump had not only paid women to hide his affairs, he had used his power and connections to pressure those women to remain silent—and made illegal use of campaign funds in the process.
And of course, all of this came on top of Republican’s breezy dismissal of Trump, on tape, talking about how his wealth and position allowed him to engage in sexual assault without consequence.
As Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas wrote last July, Trump’s actions “broke” the GOP. In defending Trump, Republicans surrendered even the pretense of “family values.” The result was a sharp drop in not just the number of Americans identifying with the Republican Party, but also in the number of Americans calling themselves “conservative.”
Republicans compounded the impression that they were the party of party boys with their defense of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the ugly attacks on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The nation was left with an image of a screaming, blubbering man-child whose beliefs in underage drinking and assaulting girls were championed by Republicans inside and outside the Senate. Though there have been calls from the start to look into the farcical investigation of the charges against Kavanaugh, the most damning thing about the whole affair is how certain Republicans were that defending Judge Beer’s behavior was a huge “win” for their party.
They think this—ignoring sexual harassment, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and every other action that degrades and abuses women—is a strength of their party. When Republicans see Democrats moving quickly to condemn behavior by Democratic officials, at either the state or federal level, they regard it as a weakness.
The truth is that, until recently, both parties have been the parties of wealthy white men behaving badly. But in the last several decades, the parties have gone in decidedly different directions. As the Democratic Party has become more diverse, both in its members and its representatives, it has become more sensitive to just how wrong many of the things that were always permitted by those privileged by race, wealth, and power really are. Democrats now move swiftly to address these issues, because they’re important. And if that sometimes means erring on the side of those who say they’ve been victims, that’s okay. The system certainly erred on the other side long enough.
What changed for Republicans in response is that they stopped even pretending to care. They’ve become the party that overtly defends sexual assault, whether it happens in Kavanaugh’s home or the studios at Fox News. They’re the party that shares nude pictures of women on the House floor, and doesn’t care who knows it.
This week, McCarthy said that Gaetz would lose his seats on committees “if he’s indicted.” But none of this is actually news to McCarthy, or to any of the other Republicans who have been hooting with Gaetz about his “sexual conquests”—conquests that apparently include being involved in an operation to provide fake IDs to underage girls, flying at least one of those girls across the country for sex, and “encouraging” some of those girls to have sex with other Republican officials.
None of this is a surprise to McCarthy or to any other Republican. This is who Matt Gaetz is. They’ve known it from day one, and they’ve done nothing about it, because of who they are.
It seems likely Gaetz will be indicted, but the Republican Party has already indicted itself.