By QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — With an over-the-phone assist from former President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz on Thursday traveled to House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney’s home turf to urge Wyomingites to vote her out of office in 2022, arguing that the at-large congresswoman is part of the “establishment power brokers” in Washington and out of touch with the people she represents.
“I think if Liz Cheney had a rally with all of her supporters, they can likely meet inside one of the elevators in the Capitol and still have enough room for social distancing,” Gaetz taunted at the top of his remarks before a mostly maskless crowd gathered in front of the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne.
The Florida congressman said he had spoken to the former president on Wednesday, telling the crowd, “He loves you all so much, and President Trump is going to keep fighting for this country with every breath that he has.”
He went on to highlight polling that was commissioned by Trump’s team, which he said the former president asked him to share, that showed dismal support for Cheney within her state.
Gaetz heavily criticized Cheney’s foreign policy stances, and looped her in with other longtime elected officials of both parties — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Mitt Romney — saying they make up “the private insider club” in the nation’s capital and arguing that together, “they want to return our government to its default setting, enriching them, making them more powerful at our expense.”
But Gaetz pledged that in the next election, “Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees.”
When asked for a comment about Gaetz’s rally, the Cheney campaign provided this statement from former state Rep. Amy Edmonds: “Wyoming doesn’t like it when outsiders come into our state and try to tell us what to do.”
The congressman’s visit comes as the GOP is grappling over how much influence Trump should have over the party now that he’s out of office. More pointedly, the trip is an escalation of an effort among some Republicans to strip Cheney of her leadership status as the third-highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives because she was one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Gaetz has said he’s not gunning for Cheney’s spot in the party’s leadership ranks, but his decision to cross state lines to campaign against her underscores that he doesn’t just want her out of leadership, but out of office. Despite representing a district in Florida, and acknowledging in her remarks that he had never been to Wyoming until Thursday, Gaetz tweeted last week that he knows “Wyoming can do better.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, is not in support of the effort among some in his conference to demote Cheney. In a call with members of his party Wednesday, McCarthy told them to stop publicly attacking each other, saying plainly, “Cut that crap out,” a person familiar with the leader’s remarks confirmed to ABC News.
“If you’re not focused on what you’re doing and what the Democrats are doing wrong, and you’re focused on talking about one another, I’m not putting up with that anymore,” McCarthy said on the call, according to the source.
In an interview with ABC News Live Prime following the rally, anchor Linsey Davis pressed Gaetz on how his rally Thursday will help his party win back the House, Senate and White House in the next two cycles.
“I want Republicans to win, but to do that, we have to be worthy of winning,” Gaetz argued. “Right now, there’s an identity crisis in the Republican Party. There are some in Washington who believe that we’ve got to purge Trumpism … I think a different view. I think that we’ve got to get out in the country, and we have to marshal a positive populism that will lead to better candidates, better policies and ultimately a better electoral performance.”
Gaetz and Cheney joined Congress at the same time, in January 2017, but while Gaetz made a name for himself as one of Trump’s most ardent supporters, Cheney was one of the few congressional Republicans willing to sometimes buck the former president during his tenure, often over foreign policy.
“‘America First,’ we are not a quiet movement, and I am not a quiet man,” Gaetz said in Cheyenne, referencing Trump’s core platform. “We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican Party, and I intend to win it.”
It’s much too early to know how much impact Gaetz’s visit to Wyoming now will have on Aug. 16, 2022, the date of the primary. And her impeachment vote wasn’t universally condemned among Wyomingites. A cohort of 30 lawyers and judges — including three former Wyoming governors — penned an op-ed in the Casper Star-Tribune saying they were “proud of Rep. Cheney’s courage.”
The congresswoman’s ties to the state are generational, as she represents Wyoming’s lone at-large district that her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, held for 10 years. She was elected to leadership after just one term in office, giving the nation’s least populated state a seat at an exclusive table.
A smaller state also means a smaller pool of voters, so a bloc of anti-Cheney voters that could seem insignificant in a more populated state could be make-or-break in Wyoming.
So far, at least three county Republican parties in Wyoming have censured Cheney for her impeachment vote, and she already has a primary challenger, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who has hit the airwaves with a 60-second radio ad labeling Cheney a “globalist” and connecting her to Biden.
When Trump Jr. phoned into the rally, he said it was critical that those who want to see Cheney ousted rally around one candidate, but he called for patience, too.
“Let’s find someone good and let’s find one person and back (them),” Trump Jr. said, claiming the only way Cheney would win is if too many people entered the race and “she gets a couple of the RINO losers together to actually take the biggest number.”
He continued, “Don’t just back the first person that comes along… let’s find exactly the opposite of her and let’s back that person fully — but let’s not make that decision today.”
Cheney easily won Republican primaries in 2018 and 2020, beating out two challengers in the ’18 midterms and one of those same candidates again last cycle.
ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel and Katherine Faulders contributed reporting.
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