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Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has built his political career around being a firebrand, but it was not until last week that he showed how his brand of leadership can take hold of the political system to achieve major results for conservatives on a scale not seen in generations.

Last year, I contended that Gaetz would emerge from a leftist-promulgated, absurdly falsified sex scandal as the “model America First leader” because he has nothing to lose. He saw that the GOP machine, with which he had already battled publicly on many occasions, would do nothing for him except aggressively hammer the nails into his political coffin at any possible opportunity. There is no more point in gentlemen’s agreements; there is no more pretense of party unity or the genteel notion of playing on the same team. The veneer of civility had been wiped clean. All that remained was to drag these lowlifes into the gutter and wage total war against them. To go for their throats. To play dirty whenever possible. To punch them while they were down.

And the GOP establishment, despite its carefully constructed propaganda campaign faulting candidate quality and other absurd tropes for their dismal midterm performance, was down. The base knew that the likes of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) allocated funds to defeat America First primary challengers that could have been used to win elections in November. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney-McDaniel was too busy with other concerns to appropriately administer funds during the midterms . The result was a catastrophe of monumental proportions.

There were weeks of non-stop browbeating about the need to go back to the good ol’ days when the establishment picked the likes of Mitt Romney and John McCain to lose with honor, and Republicans would periodically be given table scraps when the Uniparty decided the country needed a release valve. Phony staged fights featuring some scripted WWE-style yelling and chest-thumping from a weak beta like Trey Gowdy while trillions of dollars go down the toilet without accountability. This was the future set out by the RINO establishment, with Kevin McCarthy as the man steering the ship back toward mediocrity and managed decline. This was what the Republican Party was doomed to live out. But not if Gaetz had something to say about it.

Gaetz rallied other heroes-most notably Reps. Matthew Rosendale of Montana, Eli Crane of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Bob Good for Virginia-to take a stand against McCarthy’s anointment as House Speaker. They held out, refusing to give McCarthy the necessary votes to become Speaker, and used their leverage to demand meaningful concessions. In making this play, they put McCarthy in a tough spot. McCarthy had spent years brownnosing Trump and many close to the president, hoping that doing so would give him political cover during this very moment. Gaetz and company blew his cover. Now, McCarthy had to either legitimize the anger against the from Freedom Caucus members and their allies, or move to the Left and appease Democrats, which would have sent the conservative base into an apoplectic rage and doomed McCarthy’s speakership before it even started.

They put McCarthy through the wringer for 15 rounds of voting, humiliating McCarthy and debauching his reputation for an entire week. Congress deservedly became the laughingstock of the country. Republicans and Democrats could not have looked more pathetic as they gave repeated standing ovations for their hand-picked pawns placed in positions of power because of their willingness to serve at Moloch’s feet. It was a revolting display, one that disgusted every poor soul who tuned into C-SPAN and watched this debacle. But, in the end, the good guys came out on top. On January 6, Gaetz led a congressional insurgency to win back our lost freedom. Let that day live on for generations to come as the day we stood proudly and seized our sacred birthright.

Concessions won by Gaetz, and his January 6 dream team guarantees for votes on various bills related to national security, immigration, abortion, China, and the IRS, as well as crucial seats for House Freedom Caucus members on the House Rules Committee and House Appropriations Committee. There will also be a new Church-style committee to investigate deep state criminality, particularly with regard to the FBI’s political bias and influencing of the dubious 2020 presidential election. This is the most consequential victory for conservatism that has come out of Congress in recent memory, and it came during a time when Republicans were being aggressively conditioned to reject populism and fall back into establishment neocon Republicanism out of desperation.

After all, It was easy to be an America First populist in 2017 after President Donald J. Trump beat Hillary Clinton and implemented the greatest agenda that the country had seen since at least Reagan’s presidency. But after the COVID bioweapon killed millions, the Black Lives Matter terror force was unleashed onto the streets, elections were stolen in broad daylight with every part of the system enforcing the fraud as Trump and everyone else on the Right was left seemingly powerless to stop any of it from happening, doubt began to set in. Some conservatives began to lose their mettle, and, considering what they had been put through, it is hard to blame them. It is at critical junctures like these that true leaders must step up and give the people a reason to fight.

Gaetz stepped up and did so against remarkable odds. He responded to dire circumstances as a leader should, with steadfast resolve and unshakable confidence. Gaetz showed us that it is time to press forward the America First movement. At a time when many elected Republicans were talking about “getting things done” (i.e., corporate bailouts, domestic socialism, World War III funding in Ukraine, and other uniparty congressional priorities) and reveling in a Pyrrhic victory out of futility, Gaetz unapologetically went against the grain with a swagger reminiscent of Trump during his first presidential campaign.

What Gaetz orchestrated made tea party-era filibusters performed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) look strictly performative. These pale in comparison, because Gaetz’s stand took far more courage. When Paul and Cruz made their voices heard, they were fighting back against former President Barack Obama, the most reviled figure in political history from a Republican perspective, with a popular national movement behind them. Their stands were admirable, but they had a great deal of institutional backing from the GOP machine at the time. Gaetz stood up against a crooked member of his own party, and, not just establishment Republicans, but, shamefully, also many prominent figures within the MAGA Right who had cut deals with McCarthy.

Even President Donald J. Trump backed throughout the struggle in yet another example of Trump making poor choices when it comes to picking allies and personnel. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) followed suit after cozying up to McCarthy in recent months and became a relentless attack dog for McCarthy against House Freedom Caucus members. Others became even more unhinged in opposition to Gaetz and his fellow holdouts. Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who are ostensibly among the most conservative voices on the network, showed how Fox News has become unabashedly controlled opposition under the leadership of Paul Ryan and Rupert Murdoch’s liberal offspring . Gaetz was attacked by Ingraham , who falsely suggested that his stand was little more than a self-serving fundraising grift that could help Democrats. Hannity humiliated himself in his bullying treatment of Boebert, rarely letting her get a word in edgewise as she defended standing for conservatism.

Gaetz’s stand showcased the deep institutional rot within the America First movement, as Conservatism, Inc. morphs into Populist, Inc. and MAGA, Inc. It allowed the base to see who would stand for freedom in the trenches when times were tough and who would fold immediately, favoring pride and prestige over the cause of liberty. America First supporters would be wise to take notes, and politicians who were on the wrong side of this battle would be wise to make sure it never happens again. President Trump particularly needs to understand which way the wind is blowing. Shoring up the base heading into what could be an interesting 2024 primary, now that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is toying with a presidential run, ought to be a pressing concern for Trump. Siding with the likes of McCarthy is not winning him any additional support from the Republican voters he needs to win over to complete his political comeback.

This stand, led by Gaetz and the heroes of January 6, will age like a fine wine. Decadent and depraved political elites live only in the here and now. They are like the heroin addict searching only for his next hit or the alcoholic living only for his next drink. The horrendous fundamentals of the economy, with inflation and the mountain of debt, combined with the institutional and moral rot of this country, are undeniable signs of a late-stage empire headed toward a perilous collapse. As the conventional wisdom to put partisanship aside and unify leads to destitution and widespread despair, the lawmakers who refused to go quietly into that dark night will be the ones remembered fondly in the annals of history. Gaetz will be chief among those remembered as the last voice for sanity and dignity in a government gone mad. Because of his worthy statesmanship and political acumen, Gaetz has rendered himself the heir apparent to lead the America First movement for generations to come.

Gavin Wax

Gavin M. Wax is a New York-based conservative political activist, commentator, columnist, operative, and strategist. He is the Executive Director of the National Constitutional Law Union. He also serves as the 76th President of the New York Young Republican Club and as an Ambassador for both Turning Point USA & Live Action. He is co-authoring an upcoming book entitled 'The Emerging Populist Majority.' You can follow him on Twitter at @GavinWax.