Divisions are evident among constituents of Rep. Matt Gaetz in the Florida Panhandle, where CBS News found varying views of his controversial approach to politics — even among those who elected him into office. The 41-year-old Republican’s motion to vacateproved successful earlier this month, in a historic first.
In the 2020 election, Gaetz garnered an impressive 70% of the vote in his home district, an area renowned for its military bases, pristine beaches and retirement havens.
David Monteleone, a 74-year-old staunch conservative in Gaetz’s hometown of Fort Walton Beach, admires his congressman’s unapologetic political style.
“Somebody’s gotta stand for something, take authority and make it happen,” Monteleone said. “I don’t see a lot of other Republicans getting out there, opening the door to make a change.”
Mark Wynn, a 58-year-old veteran of the Air Force, Army, and National Guard, views Gaetz as a straight shooter.
“I don’t have to worry about what other agendas he has behind his back,” Wynn said.
Wynn and other supporters of Gaetz are pleased with what they view as an overdue stand he’s taking to cut federal spending, even if it means shutting down the government.
When it was pointed out that a government shutdown would result in active duty troops missing paychecks, Wynn wasn’t deterred.
“The shutdown would be caused by both parties, not one individually. Matt Gaetz is good, but he ain’t that good,” he said.
“I could see a lot of it go,” said Greg Wood, who said he’s happy to see McCarthy ousted, acknowledging he doesn’t care if Gaetz’s actions weaken the Republican Party in the process. “I think both parties need to be shook up.”
But not all Republicans share the enthusiasm. Aaron Mayer, an electrician from Pensacola who typically backs Republican candidates, said he cannot support Gaetz, believing his actions are driven by a desire for attention.
“He does what he does to get on TV,” Mayer said.
Some constituents believe he contributes to the dysfunction in Washington, essentially turning politics into a spectacle.
According to Adam Cayton, a political science professor at the University of West Florida, Gaetz taps into the same “strain and feeling” that elevated former President Donald Trump’s popularity among Republicans.
“It’s kind of a combative persona with a flair for the dramatic. We’ve seen nationwide that that resonates among the Republican elector right now,” Cayton said.
As for many left-leaning voters in the Republican stronghold, Gaetz’s recent actions have only cemented their dislike of him.
For Chris Smith in Fort Walton Beach, his congressman has been nothing short of offensive.
“He’s a dirtbag person,” Smith said.