Rep. Matt Gaetz traveled to Wyoming on Thursday to call for the ouster of House Republican Caucus Chair Liz Cheney over her vote to impeach former President Trump, underscoring the divisions in the GOP at grapples with its identity in the wake of Trump’s presidency.
Gaetz during the rally railed against “neocons,” “forever wars” and Cheney’s impeachment vote while accusing Cheney, R-Wyo., of having blood on her hands. The event could be considered the first closely-watched campaign rally of the 2022 congressional primaries.
“Now Liz Cheney taunts me for wearing makeup in my television appearances. Now, make up only hides the slightest imperfections of the skin. It does very little to conceal the soulless corruption of Washington D.C.,” Gaetz said. He was referencing a comment a Cheney, R-Wyo., spokesperson made to The Hill in response to Gaetz’s rally plans, that “In Wyoming, men don’t wear make-up.”
“It’s pretty easy for me to get a little makeup off my shirt,” Gaetz continued. “Far more difficult for Liz Cheney to get the blood off her hands after sending America’s best to foreign lands to die for unknowable gain and personal profit.”
Meanwhile in Florida, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was meeting with Trump in Mar-a-Lago, aiming to mend fences after the former president reportedly took offense to the fact McCarthy said he bore some of the responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — a stance McCarthy later reversed.
“Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” McCarthy said in a statement that credited Trump with helping House Republicans outperform expectations in 2020. “A united conservative movement will strengthen the bonds of our citizens and uphold the freedoms our country was founded on.”
McCarthy has in recent weeks also asked House Republicans to be careful with their attacks on one another, aiming to keep any fractures in the conference in-house. But just a few hours after his meeting with Trump, one of the higher-profile members of his conference was holding a political rally against one of the members of his leadership team.
Gaetz during the rally emphasized the effort to remove Cheney as the GOP conference chair, for which there is not a clear timeline at the moment. But he at the end of the rally exhorted the crowd to vote Cheney out of office in 2022.
“We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party and I intend to win it,” Gaetz said. “You can help me. You can help me break a corrupt system. You can send a representative who actually represents you and you can send Liz Cheney home — back home to Washington, D.C. It’s going to be a long two years, but let’s go get them.”
McCarthy has expressed support for Cheney to remain the GOP conference chair, a stance that Fox News reported first. McCarthy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday on Gaetz’s rally.
And Trump, as he was meeting with McCarthy, was in the process of plotting primary challenges members of McCarthy’s caucus who Trump believes were not loyal enough to him.
“The president continues to have enormous support and approval among Republican primary voters. He continues to have hundreds of millions of dollars in his campaign account, which he can utilize,” longtime Trump adviser Cory Lewandowski told Fox News Thursday. “And he will continue to be actively involved in recruiting candidates and holding elected officials accountable for their votes.”
Lewandowski said that Trump would be involved in supporting primary challenges against some of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him.
“They will all get primary challenges in my opinion,” Lewandowski said. “I don’t know at what level the president’s going to weigh in on each of those races, but I think he will be involved in a number of them.” And he said that the poll on Liz Cheney released last night by Trump’s leadership PAC is just the first of many to come on Republicans opposed to the former president.
Gaetz referenced that poll at the Thursday rally, saying “I think our position is the right one… remove Liz Cheney as the leader of the Republican conference because based on the numbers I’ve seen Liz Cheney is less popular among Republicans in her own state than Muammar Gaddafi was among the Lybians.”
He then introduced Donald Trump Jr., who joined the rally via phone.
“It’s time to have a change at the top,” Trump Jr., said. ” And since the people of Wyoming are clearly not thrilled with Liz Cheney, let’s find someone that can replace her and actually do that job well.”
Cheney, meanwhile, has aimed to rally support behind her place in the GOP conference.
“Wyoming doesn’t like it when outsiders come into our state and try to tell us what to do,” former Cheney staffer and former state representative said.
And beyond McCarthy’s tepid support, Cheney has also rounded up backing from a number of high-profile members of the House GOP and the wider party.
“Let’s get some truth on the record: @Liz_Cheney has a hell of a lot more backbone than most, & is a principled leader with a fierce intellect,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said on Twitter. “She will continue to be a much needed leader in the conference, with my full support. We can disagree without tearing eachother apart.”
Among others who back Cheney are Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Reps. Ken Buck, R-Colo., and Chip Roy, R-Texas, two prominent members of the House Freedom Caucus; high-profile freshman Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.; House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.; popular freshman Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., and more.
The House GOP conference has a meeting next week where there’s likely to be some internal discussion and grievance-airing over the decision by Cheney and nine other House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump over the role he played in allegedly inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
But it will take a longer process if members aim to remove Cheney as the conference chair. Trump Jr., Thursday indicated that Trump loyalists should take their time. He warned that if too many Trump-supporting congressmen run for Cheney’s spot, she could keep her seat with the support of less than half of the conference.
“Let’s find exactly the opposite of her, and let’s back that person fully,” Trump Jr., said at the Gaetz rally. “But let’s not make that decision today. We have some time. Let’s find the right one, let’s not split this vote up and blow our opportunity to get rid of a RINO.”
The impeachment of Trump — and thus the saga over Cheney’s vote on impeachment — began after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Trump made false claims that he won the election for two months, gathered a large group of his supporters in D.C. on Jan. 6 before Congress and Vice President Pence were set to meet to certify President Biden’s win, and told them to march down to the U.S. Capitol.
Trump never explicitly called for violence — in fact, he told his supporters to march “peacefully and patriotically.” But between his pitched rhetoric about the fate of the country, comments from allies including by Rudy Giuliani calling for “trial by combat,” and Trump’s lack of response once his supporters began attacking the Capitol, Trump was initially condemned by many on both the left and right.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President,” Cheney said in a statement on her vote to convict Trump. “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
But very quickly, GOP anger at the now-former president cooled, culminating in 45 Senate Republicans voting this week that the impeachment trial of Trump is unconstitutional now that he is out of office.
And as McCarthy aimed to smooth things over with Trump Thursday, it appears that most of the GOP is not ready to divorce itself from the former president — and that Trump plans to be highly-involved in the coming years in ensuring those who are ready to move on from his presidency are exiled.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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