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Matt Gaetz rails against Liz Cheney in Wyoming

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 21:15:55-05

(CNN) -- Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida railed against GOP Rep. Liz Cheney at the Wyoming state capitol on Thursday, stirring hundreds of Trump supporters and counter protesters after she voted to impeach the former President.

The Republican party is now out of power and grappling with its future, and some elected officials like Gaetz are positioning themselves as the bearer of Trump's brand by attacking other Republicans like Cheney, who are hoping to move past it. Republican leaders havewarned that the internecine fight hurts the party but Gaetz has decided to put himself at the center of it.

"We are in a battle for the soul of the Republican party, and I intend to win it," said Gaetz on Thursday. "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, DC."

Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, was one of only 10 Republicansto vote to impeach former President Donald Trump for "incitement of insurrection" following the deadly riot at the Capitol on January 6. In a statement at the time, Cheney blamed the violence -- including the deaths of five people-- directly on Trump, saying he "summoned," "assembled" and "lit the flame of this attack."

"There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution," Cheney said.

But Cheney's decision has sparked a retaliation in Wyoming, which Trump won in 2020 with nearly 70% of the vote, the most of any state in the country.

A GOP state senator, Anthony Bouchard, has announced a 2022 campaign against the congresswoman. The Wyoming Republican state party said "there has not been a time during our tenure when we have seen this type of an outcry from our fellow Republicans, with the anger and frustration being palpable in the comments we have received."

And over 55,000 people have apparently signed onto a petition started by Wyoming resident Shelley Horn to "recall" Cheney. Horn told CNN she doesn't consider herself a political person -- she said she "usually" makes tutus and minds "my businesses" -- but couldn't stomach her congresswoman's decision.

"You just can't go, 'Oh well, I need to vote with my conscience.' No! Vote for what your people put you in there to do," Horn told CNN. "You're a Republican, you're supposed to back your party regardless."

Dr. Taylor Haynes, a Trump supporter who lost in the state's 2018 gubernatorial Republican primary, told CNN, "In my view, she's done in Wyoming."

Gaetz and other Trump allies have pushed for Cheney to step down from her leadership position as conference chair of the House GOP. Now Gaetz, who represents the western panhandle of Florida, has taken the extraordinary step of campaigning against Cheney in her own state, and the interventionist foreign policy personified by her and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thursday's mostly maskless crowd was filled with signs both in support of Gaetz — "Impeach Cheney" -- and the congresswoman — "Cheney Spoke Truth."

Republicans are working to coalesce around a single candidate to challenge her, as some people cheered for Bouchard. The Trump political operation commissioned a poll this week claiming that the impeachment vote has hurt Cheney's popularity in the state.

"Liz Cheney's favorables there are only slightly worse than her father's shooting skills," said Trump Jr.

A source in Cheney's office dismissed Gaetz's event as a publicity stunt, saying that "Rep. Gaetz can leave his beauty bag at home. In Wyoming, the men don't wear make-up." The source linked to a video of Gaetz talking about putting makeup on for a television appearance.

Gaetz responded at his event that makeup "only hides the slightest imperfections of the skin. It does very little to conceal the soulless corruption of Washington, DC."

In Washington, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has equivocated on his level of support for Cheney, saying she should remain in leadership but that he had "concerns" about her decision.

But Cheney's allies have come to her aid. Former Republican Gov. Matt Mead joined a local newspaper op-ed toutingher willingness to perform her constitutional duty "irrespective of the personal or political cost she might pay." Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso has defended Cheneyas an effective member of their state's congressional delegation, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the Wyoming Mining Associationhave come out in support of Cheney.

"We need a voice in Washington to continue to defend our industry," said WMA executive director Travis Deti. "And it's going to be more important now than it has been in the last few years because President Biden is not going to be friendly to us."

Gale Geringer, a veteran Wyoming GOP political strategist, praised Cheney's "courage" in casting the vote to impeach Trump despite the political pressures.

"I don't underestimate the anger people are feeling right now. It's huge. And Liz Cheney has become the target of that anger, but I don't think she's really the cause of it," she said. "I think it's fear of what the Biden administration is going to do to Wyoming. We're petrified. Our entire economy, all of our jobs, our tax base has been threatened. And there's nothing we can do about Joe Biden for four years. But we can take that fear and anger out on Liz Cheney."

Wyoming political observers said that Cheney would beat back the critical clamor. And even some of the those in the state who agreed with Gaetz treated him with indifference.

"If he wants to come and do that, OK. It makes no difference," said Haynes. "Wyoming is going to do things as we've always done."

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