"If you aren't making news, you aren't governing"

As I followed him around the convention center that day, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic would upend the country, I came to understand Gaetz’s notion of political gamesmanship. In his new book, Firebrand, out September 22, Gaetz documents his undeniably Trumpian mindset: as long as he’s catching rides on Air Force One and ubiquitous in the media, he is untouchable. “Politics, they say, is show business for ugly people. The real question is who writes the scripts and produces the acts. You are governed by the theater geeks from high school, who went on to make it big booking guests on the talk shows,” Gaetz writes. “Ignore them and they’ll ignore you, and you’ll go nowhere fast. The hairdressers and makeup ladies and cameramen pick our presidents. As well they should. They are closer to the viewers and therefore the voters.”

Gaetz, like Trump, sees politics as entertainment: if you can keep the people’s attention, you can keep your power. Or, as he puts it, “Stagecraft is statecraft.” That Gaetz is regularly knee-deep in the outrage cycle—parroting George Soros conspiracy theories, or weaving together claims about the “deep state,” or defending some of the president’s most indefensible comments—is by design. As society’s attention span abbreviates, Gaetz is angling to expand his 15 minutes. “I grew up in the house Jim Carrey lived in in The Truman Show,” he writes. “I know that all the world’s a stage, especially when we all have cameras with phones.”