Illustration by Ben Tallon
Sarasota Republican congressional candidate Martin Hyde is ugly, obnoxious and a bully with no convictions—at least that’s how he described himself to me. If people have called him worse, he’s almost surely said it about it himself first. He’s infamous, and has made national news more than once for his antics. Often referred to as the mini-Trump of Sarasota, he’s a political car crash at which people can’t help but gawk.
After video of Hyde berating a female police officer for pulling him over went viral (it has earned nearly 16 million YouTube views and counting), his primary campaign against longtime incumbent Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, looked dead in the water. He’s despised by his own Sarasota Republican party elite, and he's run for office twice already and lost both times. Even he knows his chances of unseating Buchanan, who has been in office since 2007 and who serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, are dismal. And yet, he’s still in the race.
When I told people I was writing a profile of Hyde, 56, many got upset. Why on earth would I give that awful man more press than he’s already received? It’s a reasonable question. If I give him ink, am I just feeding the monster? But however you feel about Hyde, he embodies a significant part of the American id. Our country’s politics today are angry, combative and impolite, and driven by a lust for entertainment and attention. Sound familiar?
I knew about Hyde for years, but the first time I met him was at a Sarasota County School Board meeting that took place some months after his viral run-in with the Sarasota police. Hyde had arrived at 5:30 p.m. to give an inflammatory prepared statement that he was going to use as footage for his campaign.
He meant it to be a comeback of sorts. For years, he’d been a regular menace at school board and city commission meetings, giving our elected officials a hard time in his cheeky London accent. But since the incident with the cops, he had been lying low, and he wouldn’t end up speaking until just before 9 p.m.
Hyde is a big, grinning man who always wears suits with a handkerchief that matches his tie. He’s got flesh-colored hair and, despite his size, is very light on his feet—vestiges of a former career as a professional soccer player. He speaks breathlessly, with an opinion on just about every subject you can think of. He also swears a lot.
“Can you believe this bullshit?” Hyde asked me, referring to the school board meeting. “They changed the rules on commenting so we have to wait until the end for my speech.”
Throughout the rest of the meeting, Hyde whispered color commentary into my ear. He impressed me with his familiarity and insider knowledge about every character in local politics, and their shortcomings. While he may be a hyper-partisan political figure, he is a bipartisan trash talker. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or something in between, Hyde has a biting observation about you.
When School Board Vice-Chair Tom Edwards referred to himself as a businessman, Hyde scoffed: “Some businessman—he was a wholesale liquor salesman in New York City.” (Edwards did not respond to a request for comment.) Even fellow conservative Bridget Ziegler, wife of Sarasota County Commissioner and Trump acolyte Christian Ziegler, wasn’t safe from Hyde’s opinions. “She doesn’t believe in anything,” Hyde told me. “She’ll say anything to move up. She hasn’t got a single conviction.” He paused. “I know that’s ironic, coming from me.” (Ziegler did not respond to a request for comment.)
Hyde reserves the most scathing criticisms for himself. “It’s partly a self-defense mechanism,” he says. “I say things about myself before others can think them.” Hyde grew up in the south London neighborhood of Crystal Palace and attended an all-boys Catholic school. “That’s where I learned to be a bully,” he says.
He dropped out of school at 16 to pursue a soccer career. “My dad so desperately wanted me to be a football player so he could live vicariously through me,” Hyde says. “But I wasn’t cut out for it. Didn’t have the mind for it. I was too worried about making mistakes.”
When Hyde turned the ball over at a vital point in a big game that led to the other team scoring and winning, his father was devastated. On the long train ride home, Hyde’s father sat next to him, but he did not comfort him. “He was so upset that he didn’t talk to me the whole way back,” Hyde remembers. “He looked at me like I had killed someone, but what I had done was kill his dream.”
He doesn’t hold this against his father. He came from a different generation. “They fought in the war,” Hyde says. “They didn’t have Oprah Winfrey or talk about feelings.”
After Hyde abandoned his athletic ambitions, he joined his father’s office equipment company. “I ended up doing something that for a long time I resented, which was working for my dad,” he says. Thirty years ago, Hyde moved to Sarasota, and now has his own office supply company, Gulf Business Systems.
Inheriting his father’s business and then going on to run for office is just one of the many similarities Hyde shares with Trump. Politically, he agrees with Trump’s “America First” principles and his immigration and energy policies, and both have multiple children spread across multiple failed marriages. Both are rarely seen outside of a business suit, and they share a reputation for railing against establishment politics by “telling it like it is” with provocative rhetoric.
When it was finally time for Hyde to give his prepared statement to the school board, he walked up with the supreme confidence of a seasoned pro. He timed his speech perfectly to his allotted one minute and hit all the conservative buzzwords of the day: the “radical left” and its “woke agenda.” His big punchline came at the end when he talked about one of the board members having “big balls,” after she was allegedly caught on tape saying she had the biggest balls in the room.
I hate this kind of stuff, when it’s hard to distinguish between politics and pro wrestling. I do not share the vast majority of Hyde’s politics, but for as much as he plays up a certain kind of conservative character, he has some honest and astute criticisms of the status quo.
He claims that the local Republican establishment despises him. That makes me like him. When Tucker Carlson invited Hyde onto his Fox News show, it made area conservatives mad with jealousy, Hyde claims. “It tickled me on some level to stick it to the local Republicans who hate me,” he says. “Even Joe Gruters, for all that he believes himself to be, doesn’t get to be on Tucker.” (Gruters did not respond to a request for comment.)
Appearing on Tucker Carlson Tonight was one of Hyde’s proudest moments in his political career. “I’m just an ordinary pleb,” he said to me. I interrupted him to point out that he has an elevator in his $2 million downtown home. He smiled and said, “I see your point.”
This is another part of Hyde that I like, a quality that separates him from Trump and most modern politicians. When you call him out on something, he doesn’t deny it. Like his Facebook profile picture. It’s a dramatic shot of him with a hand raised in front of a giant steel cross as the sun sets. “I’m not religious,” Hyde confesses. “I have to be honest. That was bullshit. It was like a money shot.” This is the kind of sincerity that would drive a campaign manager insane. “I did that absolutely cynically because the cross evokes moral instinct for people,” Hyde says.
Hyde claims he doesn’t like any of our local conservative leaders. “They play a game I don’t care for,” he says. “They go around with their 12-year-old-boy haircuts and kiss everybody’s ass and tell everybody what they want to hear.”
Even Trump isn’t free from Hyde’s gibes. “You must remember Trump was a Democrat, and Trump was thick as thieves with the Clintons,” he says. I added Jeffrey Epstein, who was facing sex trafficking charges when he died in 2019, to that list. “Absolutely,” Hyde agrees.
Hyde brought up a 2016 letter to the editor he wrote to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in which he mocked Trump. “Trump is an idiot on some level—a cartoon character of a poor little rich kid whose daddy gave him money and still fucked up, going bankrupt twice and screwing over a lot of people, including two ex-wives in a very public and nasty way,” Hyde says. But then he adds, “Trump speaks to the people and criticizes the status quo.”
Hyde says he’s running against that very same status quo. “It’s the same thing that I faced in the U.K.,” he says. “Two-thirds of all the British prime ministers went to two small private prep schools: Eton or Harrow. People came to America to get away from that glass ceiling.” But he says it’s just more of the same in America. “I always thought it was a meritocracy here, but it isn’t,” he says. “We just have a different feudal system.”
It stung Hyde when Buchanan received Trump’s coveted endorsement. “He doesn’t even like Trump,” Hyde says of Buchanan. “Buchanan is a moderate Michigan Republican, which I’m not. He’s a big picture globalist type of guy. And he’s boring. You hear him talk and he’ll put you to sleep.” Then he criticizes the way Buchanan looks. “Never trust a guy who is over 70 years old without a single gray hair,” he says. “I always like to joke about how we go to the same place to get Botox. I use it by the barrel-load. But I’ll never dye my hair.” (Buchanan did not respond to a request for comment.)
Hyde believes the only reason Buchanan’s campaign team sought Trump’s endorsement was because they felt threatened by Hyde’s challenge. “There was a moment there when we thought maybe we could win,” Hyde says. “We had some momentum behind us.” But then things fell apart. After the viral traffic stop video, Hyde dumped Trump advisers Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani as campaign consultants.
But Hyde knows that even if the traffic stop fiasco didn’t happen, he didn’t stand much of a chance anyway. “I’m under no illusions,” Hyde says. “The only way I win is if Vern Buchanan drops dead after qualifying. Once you’re on the Ways and Means Committee, you can’t be beat. I know it’s a real possibility I could get less than 3 percent of the vote.”
So why is he still running? He expects to spend well north of $250,000 on the effort. “It’s a complete fool’s errand,” Hyde admits. “But I’m not going to walk away just because I can’t win. That’s like saying I’m not going to play golf anymore because I can’t break 65. It’s because I enjoy it. I don’t mind the fight. I like fighting.”
Over the past couple months, Hyde has sent me dozens of screenshots of Google metrics of people searching his name. I asked him if he thinks he’s a narcissist. “No, I don’t think so,” he says, but he does admit to being "prideful" and even arrogant. I asked him if running for office is a way to deal with a midlife crisis after working at a job that he didn’t want to do his whole life. “Is running for office a kind of escape? Yes, I think so,” he says. “You can definitely say that. I’ve said many times that there’s this cathartic effect to it—the challenge of people not liking you.”
Afew days after his School Board appearance, Hyde invited me to go with him to The Hollow 2A, the conservative venue and “American values sanctuary” in Venice that often hosts right-wing figures like Flynn. Hyde was going there to shoot both a .50 caliber sniper rifle and a campaign commercial. It wasn’t an original idea. Last year, Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene released a campaign ad in which she used a .50 cal rifle to shoot a Toyota Prius with the word “socialism” printed on the side.
When I met Hyde in Venice, he wasn’t wearing his standard suit and tie. Instead, he wore a Smith & Wesson T-shirt and blue jeans. He’d never shot a rifle like this before and seemed excited.
While we waited for the gun instructor to finish up with another group, we were offered some Cokes out of a cooler. “No, thanks. I don’t drink that ‘Woke-a-Cola’ stuff,” he said, referring to a conservative boycott of the drink because the company supports liberal causes. He grabbed a bottle of Dasani water instead. I pointed out that The Coca-Cola Company also owns that brand. “You’re right,” he said. “We live in a world ruled by a few corporations and we can’t escape them.”
He went on to say that large corporations should be broken up through antitrust laws and have their holdings redistributed. “Sounds like you want to seize the means of production, comrade,” I said. I didn’t think he would appreciate being called a communist, but Hyde took it in stride and said, “The only thing that’s wrong with Marxism, as far as I’m concerned, is who would be in charge?” He pointed to China and the Soviet Union. “They haven’t made everyone equal,” he said. “You’ve made some people more equal than others. Fact is that people aren’t equal.”
After spending a few days with Hyde, I wondered why some people are drawn to people like him. Why does an English showboat who owns an office supply company evoke such strong feelings? Why did tens of millions of people watch a low-resolution video of him being a jerk to police officer? In these hyper-partisan times, when the stakes always seem high but meaningful change seems rare, watching the other side fail is perhaps all that we have left.
I get the appeal of raging against the establishment, but I’m left with a feeling that, in the end, it might just help the powers that be. Instead of our elected officials becoming the focus of our justifiable anger, Hyde opens his mouth and people yell at him instead. He is like an effigy who lights himself on fire.
Though Roger Stone is no longer in Hyde’s employ, Stone said something that Hyde believes to be true: “The only bad press is no press at all.” I had a dream while writing this story that Hyde had written a book, similar to Trump’s The Art of the Deal, and the book meticulously detailed how to manipulate the media. Had I fallen into Hyde’s trap?
The next morning, I looked online to verify that no such book exists. It doesn’t. But even if Hyde is no master manipulator, am I still perpetuating his scheme by writing this article? Are you, by reading it?
Whether you and I are caught up in Hyde’s web, whether he wins or loses, there’s one thing I know for certain: He seems to be having fun.
Listen to the author chat with Martin Hyde in his downtown Sarasota home on the Cheeseburger in Babylon podcast.
Isaac Eger is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, Vice and more. You can read more of his work at his newsletter, Apocalypse Florida.