“We do not need to accept failure, or losing. We do not have to be condemned to some grim fate. We are Americans, and if there’s a fight for the soul of this country, we intend to win it.”
While the lines sound like those uttered by Trump’s allies in the days and hours before a mob attacked the Capitol seeking to overturn the election, they were spoken Thursday by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) at an event staged so he could attack Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) in her own state.
Gaetz spent the speech going after Cheney and other “insider” Republicans, stoking America First-style grievance and promoting himself in equal measure.
Since her vote for impeachment, Cheney has taken on a fusillade of attacks from rightwing politicians like Gaetz, many of whom are calling for her to be removed from party leadership. While Gaetz claims that he’s not angling for her job as committee chair, he certainly spent much of Thursday’s speech puffing up his own pro-Trump bona fides.
“Our battle is no longer just Republican versus Democrat, no longer red team versus blue team,” he said. “We gotta put America first.” He named Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Cheney as Washington insiders enriching themselves at average people’s expense.
He did not name House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-CA) among the group, a notable exclusion given that Gaetz’s speech was a direct affront to McCarthy’s stated wishes. On a caucus call Wednesday, McCarthy reportedly urged Republicans to stop attacking each other in public, saying that it would only help the Democrats. It was more of a “do as I say, not as I do” directive though, given McCarthy’s own reluctance to defend Cheney just days before. McCarthy also flew down to Florida to meet with former President Donald Trump today, an apparent attempt to get back in Trump’s good graces with an eye toward the 2022 midterms.
Gaetz said during the speech that he had also talked to Trump, setting off a roar from the crowd, and even told one Politico reporter beforehand that Trump had helped him write it. He took a call from Donald Trump Jr., holding the phone up to the microphone while Trump Jr., over speakerphone, called for the crowd to back a primary challenger to Cheney in two years.
Cheney has already attracted one challenger, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, and a group founded by former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski is raising funds for a primary challenge.
Gaetz’s speech smacked of a campaign stop, as he positioned himself as an anti-establishment mini-Trump juxtaposed to Cheney as an establishment neocon, describing her as a “master of the Beltway in ways I will never be.”
His tirade on her foreign policy positions seemed to excite the crowd less than when he mentioned the former President though, saying that since she’d been in Congress she’d “frustrated the Trump agenda.” (In reality, per a tally kept by Five Thirty Eight, Cheney voted in line with Trump’s agenda around 93 percent of the time.)
As to her impeachment vote, Cheney framed it as a vote of conscience, saying that “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States.”
Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment, and the highest ranking to do so.
Gaetz and others — from the Freedom Caucus to the Federalist — have sought to make her pay.
“Defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees,” he declared Thursday to loud applause.