Secretary Rubio, Senator Gaetz?
Inside the personnel rumors that could shake up Washington.
Matt Gaetz, if nothing else, is a man on the move.
To some, the thirty-something Floridian is a sign of the times, the grim reaper of an institution, Congress, in terminal decline. “Matt Gaetz is not a legislator. He’s an entertainer,” former House Speaker Paul Ryan told Tim Alberta for his new book, American Carnage, on the modern American Right.
But to others, Gaetz is the man for the moment, a hyperactive communicator as capable in a television arena geared toward Baby Boomers, as he is fielding hecklers on millennial Twitter. The medium was the politician’s choice to lend further credence to the real news—no, not the impeachment show—in Washington this week.
“My former boss @marcorubio would be a historic and amazing Secretary of State,” Gaetz tweeted Thursday. The skinny: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the ropes amid the impeachment inquiry, might duck out of town. The ex-Kansas congressman could return to the Free State to seek a long-coveted Senate seat—a move not so quietly favored by the powerful majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
The president would then tap Marco Rubio as Pompeo’s replacement. “Little Marco” and Trump are, of course, no love match. But the duo have buried the hatchet since the stormy days of the 2016 primary campaign. Later that year, Rubio spoke for Trump, albeit by video, at the Republican convention; he did not vote his conscience.
By early 2017, Rubio became ensconced within the new administration, serving as a critical voice on foreign policy, urging Trump in the direction of what would become the White House’s hardline position on Venezuela and Latin America more generally. Lately, Rubio has remade himself as a Catholic skeptic of laissez-faire economics.
A neoconservative by inclination and still a young man, Rubio’s appointment would likely draw groans from most foreign policy restrainers, who would see the move as Trump throwing another life preserver to a talented but vulnerable pol whose career, just years ago, was on the scrap heap.
But the idea of sending Rubio to Foggy Bottom, all things considered, would receive a relatively warm welcome in the Senate and in conservative intellectual circles: a mark of seriousness that the Republican Party, slowly but surely, is changing, and that the president, now notoriously inattentive to personnel, isn’t completely asleep at the switch.
At worst, so goes the thinking, Rubio would be a hawkish stand-in for the cagey but ultimately conventional Pompeo.
The coup de grace: in such a scenario, critical Trump ally Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, could appoint Gaetz, his close collaborator, to the seat. Gaetz, never bashful, is plainly open to the role.
A Senator Gaetz’s office could serve as the hub in the Senate for right-leaning foreign policy restraint, similar to the niche former Senator Jeff Sessions, in his encore tour, hopes to re-establish for immigration restrictionism and trade nationalism.
Gaetz, though a confidant of the president, has nonetheless crossed party lines on foreign policy, and shown full willingness to run afoul of official White House policy. His appointment would further move the needle in ending America’s involvement in the ruinous war in Yemen. No figure on the Right has lobbied the White House more forcefully to get out now.
The brash style of Gaetz’s political career thus far has garnered the congressman outsized influence for a backbencher. But such an approach has likely, as Ryan all but said explicitly, foreclosed much of a path to the Republican House leadership, which prizes the color-in-the-lines Republicanism of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy or the revanchist conservatism of Liz Cheney. Gaetz proudly ignores the House style. To shrieks on MSNBC, he takes a howitzer to convention. It doesn’t seem to matter.
When, last month, Gaetz led a highly controversial storming of the secretive Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) inside the Capitol, to protest the nature of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, Gaetz appeared unfazed. Gaetz, much younger and far more junior than his colleagues, was nonetheless joined by them in a risky stunt that earned the whole caucus a lashing on liberal cable television and the mainstream press. Addressing reporters, McCarthy’s principal deputy, Steve Scalise, appeared almost as GOP nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012 while receiving the endorsement of then-civilian Donald Trump. He looked like a hostage. But everyone knows the rest of the story.
Gaetz may be the House’s drama major, but he’s putting on a sold out show. A Senate seat is now in the offing. It does beg the question: Speaker Ryan, are you not entertained?
Curt Mills is senior writer for The American Conservative.