Trey Radel Sticks His Nose Back Into Politics

Radel addresses a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the U.S. Capitol in September 2013. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Radel addresses a Hispanic Heritage Month event in the U.S. Capitol in September 2013. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted February 4, 2016 at 5:00am

Now clear-headed after treatment for a substance abuse problem that cost him his job in the House, Florida Republican Trey Radel is back on the political scene with unwanted advice for current pols and a forthcoming tell-all.

The first-time lawmaker stood out from his colleagues on Capitol Hill because of a fascination with rap music and an aptitude for social media. He became infamous less than a year into his inaugural term after he was arrested for buying cocaine from an undercover officer.  

“First rule of Fight Club: Don’t buy cocaine from a federal agent,” Radel joked Jan. 29 during an appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” a one-liner that drew big laughs from the famously liberal host, filmmaker Adam McKay and the studio audience.  

With the guest spot and the forthcoming book tour, Radel is done keeping his head down in the private sector and wants back into the media circus.  

Radel laughed when Maher called White House hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a “creep.” He giggled uncontrollably when fellow panelist Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio host, opined that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been debating as if he were “on ‘ludes.”  

When Maher attempted to downplay the importance of the Iowa caucuses — “They’re not even really voting,” the cynical comic noted — Radel piled right on.  

“There’s some sort of joke to be made about going to the most vanilla, white area of the country and having the Republican Party, of all parties, go and have their first primary there,” he said about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation vetting process. One way to make things more relevant, Radel suggested, might be to move the contest to his infinitely more diverse home state.  

When Maher tried to paint him as a hypocrite for supporting the drug testing of food stamp recipients, Radel suddenly got serious.  


“I would have never, ever, ever taken a vote, a standalone vote to drug test food stamp recipients. What I voted on was a massive farm bill and within it was a provision that was put in by both Democrats and Republicans. I was vocal against the war on drugs,” he argued, even as Maher attempted to shift to the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the Sunshine State.

The issue struck a chord with Radel, who insisted that certain cultural deficiencies could be traced back to the ill-conceived war on drugs. “We’re locking up non-violent offenders and disproportionately affecting minority communities throughout the country. There has to be criminal justice reform,” he stated.  

Radel intends to dispense plenty more advice in the memoir he’s planning to release in early 2017. The now-crisis management consultant declined to give away too much about the literary project, but does appear willing to take shots at himself.

“I may have personally brought Congress’ approval rating down from a root canal and moved it closer to a colonoscopy,” the self-effacing pol, who resigned from office in 2014, shared via email of the dismal state of affairs in the nation’s capital.  

His Twitter feed is flush with snarky barbs about the super PAC-sponsored bloodletting that’s propelled the 2016 presidential race into uncharted territory.

“The anger and frustration with Washington was quantifiable in 2010 with the Republican sweep of the House, specifically with the so-called ‘tea party’ candidates,” he told Roll Call, expounding upon observations he made last month regarding the etymology of the dismissive qualifier. “But here’s what’s crystal clear: People are pissed. And Lord knows, my own shortcomings didn’t help.”  

Freshman Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., leaves the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse after pleading guilty in D.C. Superior Court to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cocaine on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Radel leaves the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse after pleading guilty in D.C. Superior Court to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cocaine in November 2013. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Per Radel, people are gravitating toward GOP antagonizer-in-chief Donald Trump and self-described socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., because they’ve had it with mainstream candidates.  

“Regardless of either of their policies or lack thereof, Sanders and Trump have captivated people from diverse backgrounds and political ideologies across the spectrum. They all share one common thread — their middle finger extended and aimed at Washington,” he said of the anti-establishment furor fueling the most madcap dash for the White House in recent history.

He remains hopeful, however, that lawmakers can still rise above the fray — assuming leaders are ready to do some heavy lifting.

Radel urged pols to go all-in on a number of polarizing issues — virtually unheard of during an election year — including tax and immigration reform.  

“If tax reform could be achieved with the next president, the American economy would boom,” he predicted, asserting that simplification would benefit everyone. “Even if the tax rates were higher than conservatives want and lower than liberals want, it is imperative to give our businesses certainty and stability.”  

His other prescription eschews dollars in favor of common sense.  

“What Congress needs to do has nothing to do with lawmaking or policy or naming another damn bridge or post office. Instead, it’s cultural: Members of Congress need to start talking to each other,” Radel suggested.  

He advocated for more personal interaction (“You can’t get things done without relationships,” Radel said), challenging partisans to drop their guard and actually fraternize with colleagues on the other side of the aisle.  

“It becomes infinitely easier to work with someone who you know and come to trust … [and] also a lot harder to publicly reject and talk smack about people you know and get along with,” he posited.  

And the self-styled #hiphopconservative is already looking forward to how things might go down during the 2020 campaign. That’s when rap mogul Kanye West has indicated he might take a shot at the Oval Office.  

It remains unclear whether multi-hyphenate entertainer Yeezy could realistically add commander-in-chief to his resume.  

But Radel is keenly interested in seeing whether street hustler cum entertainment icon Jay Z could go the distance.  

“I would bet that given his experience in business, coupled with his rough experiences on the streets, he could find some of the common ground that Republicans and Democrats are finding today — a rejection of neocon foreign policy (doesn’t matter if it’s Bush, Obama or Clinton, they’re all are bomb-happy neocons), criminal justice reform, and an overhaul of the tax code, spurring business, while simplifying it to make the code more just for entrepreneurs and the poor,” Radel outlined via email.  

“Do you have a phone number for Jay? I’d love to give him a call and chat about these things,” Radel quipped.  

Contact Rojas at warrenrojas@rollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @WARojas.
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