Di Lothrop, vice chair of the Nashua Republican City Committee, is comfortable dealing with controversy.
Tasked with booking speakers for the party’s events, she once chose former Sheriff Joe Arpaio for the annual fundraiser. She recalls the throng of protesters outside, infuriated by Arpaio’s hard-right stance on immigration and accusations of police misconduct under his watch.
Her annual fundraiser this August, a “steak out” at a Marriott in Nashua, will almost certainly be similarly charged: its keynote speaker is Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).
“No, I’m not afraid at all,” she told TPM of the possibility that protesters will swarm the event. “Sometimes controversy sells tickets.”
This time, though, the controversy was unplanned.
Lothrop said that she sent Gaetz the invitation “a month before all of this came out. I didn’t send the invitation knowing any of this.”
That’s left the city party enmeshed in Gaetz’s growing scandal, centered on a report that he is being investigated for possible sex trafficking of a minor. The situation has harkened back to the Trump era, with new details and reporting dribbling out almost daily.
Democrats in New Hampshire have taken note of the local GOP’s event, rolling out an online petition to try to force Gov. Chris Sununu (R) to intervene and get the Nashua Republicans to disinvite Gaetz.
“After everything that continues to come out about Gaetz, it is simply unfathomable and disgusting that Chris Sununu and the NH GOP have not already publicly denounced Gaetz and uninvited him from their fundraiser,” the petition, circulated by the New Hampshire Democrats, reads.
Sununu provided a response to TPM through a spokesperson after this piece was published.
“The Nashua Republican City Committee should of course rescind their invitation; I’m surprised the Committee hasn’t already done so,” he said. “I certainly will not attend an event headlined by Representative Gaetz.”
Lothrop said that, while she is aware of the petition, she has not been contacted by anyone in the governor’s office.
She also told TPM that she has been in contact with members of Gaetz’s office since the allegations broke, though has not “yet” spoken with the congressman directly. She declined to say whether a meeting is planned.
Meanwhile, the Nashua Republicans are digging in. Lothrop said that she is preparing a statement to be published Tuesday, reiterating that Gaetz is still invited to the event and has the city party’s support.
“Right now, these are just allegations — allegations are not proof of guilt,” she said. “Look what they did to Justice Kavanaugh, look what they did to President Trump with the porno queen, whatever she was — it’s just allegations and obviously it’s a tactic.”
If he was convicted, she said, that might be another matter. The event is in August, though — probably too soon for a conviction, even if that’s where Gaetz is ultimately headed. What about an indictment?
“I’d have to take everything into consideration,” she said of the possibility. “I fully believe in his innocence.”
For now, that’s the stance Gaetz has taken too. Painting the allegations as a smear campaign from the hostile media, he has insisted that he is being punished for having an active — though consensual — sex life. He tweeted prolifically over the weekend, from a photo with his “#RideOrDie” fiancée to claims that the allegations are really part of an extortion plot to squeeze him for millions. He also spoke at the Save America Summit at the Trump National Doral golf club in Miami on Friday, during which he maintained that he will not resign over the allegations.
The case may have taken a more serious turn for Gaetz last week, when a lawyer for his friend, former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, told reporters that Greenberg would likely change his plea. If Greenberg cooperates with prosecutors, that could spell trouble for Gaetz.
Despite the deluge of Gaetz allegations, Lothrop said that of the party members she’d heard from, “99 percent” were in favor of keeping Gaetz as the event headliner. She’d only gotten two “negative” calls, she said, though the callers were more worried about potential demonstrators than the allegations against Gaetz.
For all of her confidence in Gaetz, though, Lothrop still has some contingency plans. She said that she has a backup keynote speaker on deck, and is keeping an eagle eye on the situation’s developments.
“I fully understand that this is a smear campaign,” she said.
“But by the same token, I still have to protect my event,” she added. “So there will be several conversations certainly forthcoming. I’m on top of it all the time.”
This story has been updated with a response from Governor Sununu.