Mark Lombardo says Trump and DeSantis do not want to associate with Gaetz.
Lombardo said it was because he is under investigation by DOJ over his relationship with a minor.
Lombardo says Gaetz has repeatedly made bad decisions while in office.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz's Republican primary opponent Mark Lombardo blasted the sitting congressman and said that former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis do not want to be associated with someone under investigation for allegedly sex-trafficking a minor. Trump has however not shied away from publicly praising Gaetz, including at a recent Conservative Political Action Conference speech.
"Trump or DeSantis have not endorsed Matt Gaetz. Have they in the past? Yes. Have they now? The answer is no. And the reason for that is that they can't afford the branding issue. The branding issue of being associated with a pedophile," Lombardo told Insider in an interview Tuesday.
Trump has not sent out a written endorsement of Gaetz, as he typically does for high-profile endorsements through his official communication channels. He however told attendees at a private fundraiser in April for the Florida lawmaker's reelection that Gaetz had his "full endorsement." He also recently heaped praise on Gaetz during a keynote address at CPAC, where he told the crowd that Gaetz "fights for freedom" and is a "great guy." Trump endorsed him in 2018.
Several Republicans have put more distance between themselves and Gaetz since it became public that the Justice Department was investigating whether he paid a 17-year-old girl to travel across states for sex, which is considered a federal crime.
The Florida congressman pushed back on Lombardo's remarks and pointed to videos where Trump encouraged people to go out and vote for Gaetz at a Turning Points USA Conference last month. In a video from the private fundraising event in April at Mar-a-Lago, Trump said Gaetz "has an endorsement from me, a 100% endorsement," referring to Gaetz.
Gaetz's team argues Trump's statements at the private fundraiser and public praise constitute a formal endorsement.
"Mark Lombardo is obviously a liar, as proven by this video of President Trump endorsing me in front of thousands of people," Gaetz said in a statement to Insider.
Gaetz remains under investigation by the Justice Department as part of its ongoing probe into an alleged past sexual relationship with the minor although he's not been charged. Others in his inner circle have also come under investigation. His longtime associate Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax official, pleaded guilty last year to several charges, including sex trafficking. Greenberg is expected to be sentenced to prison in December.
Lombardo's comments come weeks after the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence Marc Short, also blasted Gaetz after the Florida lawmaker suggested at a conference that Pence would never be president.
"I don't know if Mike Pence will run for president in 2024, but I don't think Matt Gaetz will have an impact on that – in fact, I'd be surprised if he's still voting," Short said during a July CNN interview. "It's more likely that he'll be in prison for child sex trafficking by 2024, and I'm actually surprised that Florida law enforcement still allows him to speak to teenage conferences like that."
Lombardo, a Marine Corps veteran, will go head-to-head with Gaetz in Florida's primary elections on August 23. Lombardo said that Gaetz continues to make bad decisions while holding office and needs to be voted out.
"This is not gimmicks. He's not funny. He's not a party boy. This is serious stuff; he needs to be held accountable," he said.
This story has been updated to clarify that Trump has publicly praised Gaetz and told him he had his endorsement during a private fundraiser.
Read the original article on Business Insider