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GOP Leaders Want Members to Stand With Incumbents. Matt Gaetz Isn’t Listening.

The Florida congressman campaigned for Brandon Herrera, who is running against Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales.

Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz has backed multiple primary challengers to his Republican colleagues. Alex Brandon/AP

House GOP leaders urged their members on Thursday to not campaign against incumbent colleagues. But Rep. Matt Gaetz wasn’t there to hear it. He was in Texas, campaigning for a primary challenger aiming to unseat Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales.

Gaetz skipped the House GOP retreat to attend a rally for Brandon Herrera, a self-proclaimed Second Amendment activist. Herrera and Gonzales will be in a runoff on March 28 after the congressman failed to get past 50% of the vote in the primary.

Gaetz acknowledged at the event that his presence wouldn’t please some fellow Republicans.

“Some of my Republican colleagues are a little upset with me today,” he said in San Antonio. “They’re having the Republican congressional retreat in West Virginia, and pardon me for saying so, but doesn’t it sort of feel like congressional Republicans have been in a state of constant retreat? So, I didn’t go on the retreat in West Virginia. I came to the front lines of the advance right here in San Antonio, Texas.”

Gaetz added that while he wished he could focus his energy on defeating Democrats, there were many Republicans who have voted and acted like Democrats — including Gonzales. He and Herrera went after the congressman for his 2022 vote on a gun safety bill. Uvalde is part of Gonzales’ district, and that vote occurred a month after the Robb Elementary School shooting.

But Republican leaders have stood behind Gonzales. The Gonzales campaign announced Thursday that every member of the House GOP leadership endorsed him.

“Speaker Mike Johnson and House GOP Leadership know I’m the Conservative Fighter that Texas-23 needs in Congress! Proud to have their endorsement,” Gonzales said in a statement.

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Gonzales is not the only incumbent whom Gaetz is targeting. Gaetz has already campaigned with Rep. Mike Bost’s primary opponent and has plans to do the same with Rep. William Timmons’ opponent.

Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the offices of House Speaker Mike Johnson or Majority Leader Steve Scalise. When asked about Gaetz’s decision to campaign for Gonzales’ primary challenger, House Republican Chair Elise Stefanik’s campaign office reiterated her support for the incumbent.

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.