GOP’s Ron DeSantis turns his back on embattled Matt Gaetz — who helped put him in office

The sex scandal swirling around Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) could soon put Gov. Ron DeSantis, who leaned heavily on the GOP lawmaker during his campaign, in a tough spot.

The pair met when both were serving in Congress, and the 39-year-old Gaetz used his father's connections as a longtime state senator to help the relatively inexperienced DeSantis navigate the Florida political landscape as he weighed a gubernatorial run, and he went on to play a major role in that campaign and the early days of the administration, reported Politico.

"Man, I can't tell you how much by the end of the election he was the campaign," said one former DeSantis adviser. "By the time we were in heavy general election mode, DeSantis was not doing anything without Gaetz being in on it."

The governor's communications did not respond to requests for comment, and DeSantis has not made any comments about the Gaetz investigation.

"I don't have anything to say about that," he has previously said about the case.

Gaetz urged the governor to appoint several associates now caught up in the federal sex trafficking investigation, and he brought friend Joel Greenberg, a former Seminole County tax collector who pleaded guilty this month in the case, for a visit to the campaign office in Orlando.

"I obviously knew who Matt was, but I was like, 'who the f*ck is this guy?'" said one former DeSantis aide who was at the meeting. "It was the first time I saw him [Joel]. They were in like shorts and sunglasses, and just came in trying to give us advice and tell us what to do. It was very bizarre for like an hour or so."

Gaetz continued to advise DeSantis after his November 2018 election win, and he helped the new governor pick his early staff and pushed to get appointments for friends now linked to the federal sex trafficking probe.

"When they started the transition, the governor let Gaetz appoint the transition team," said one early DeSantis administration adviser. "He picked the transition chairs… they were all picked by Gaetz, and he worked hard, and to some degree of success, putting all his people he wanted in the administration."

The lawmaker lobbied Orlando surgeon and GOP fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo, whose private plane was used in September 2018 for a Bahamas trip that included Gaetz and five woman, including one who was 17 at the time, to oversee the state Department of Health.

"Gaetz stood on his head to make Jason surgeon general," said one DeSantis transition official. "He got a meeting. The governor didn't appoint him, but no way he's even in the room without Matt."

Another plane used for that Bahamas trip belonged to former state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who Gaetz urged DeSantis to appoint to a post in his administration, and the governor ultimately tapped him to head the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

"Gaetz wanted him to be [Department of Environmental Protection] secretary and had him interview with [the Department of Environmental Protection] secretary," said a former DeSantis transition adviser. "It didn't work out, so he needed to find a place to get him in."

The lawmaker eventually fell out of the governor's inner circle, which was pushed by DeSantis' former chief of staff Shane Strum.

"Here is a good way to look at it: As Shane's power grew, Matt's diminished," said one current DeSantis adviser. "I don't think it was a personality conflict, it was more of a power conflict."