CHEYENNE, Wyo — Hundreds flocked the Wyoming State Capitol Tuesday, kicking off a campaign to oust Republican Rep. Liz Cheney after the state’s at-large representative joined Democrats in another effort to impeach President Donald Trump.
Two weeks ago, Cheney triggered the backlash escalating to a protest in her own state when she declared she would be casting her vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s second rushed impeachment featuring an article passed without a single hearing, significant deliberation, or witness. The vote ignited a firestorm within her party, where instead of provoking a major inner-party civil war seeking to rid the GOP of Trumpism, as the establishment class expected, her Republican colleagues began demanding her removal from House leadership, with support from more than 100 members of the caucus. In Wyoming, Cheney has been censured by her own party, and gotten a recall challenge from a state senator.
“I’ll write somebody else in,” Tom Durham told The Federalist outside the state capitol when asked about the possibility of Cheney surviving the primary.
Durham, a Wyoming resident attending the rally with his wife, complained Cheney reminded them too much of the Bush-era Republicanism that has come to define creatures of the swamp invested in special interests and self-aggrandizement without conviction.
“They turned on us,” Durham said, airing a shared grievance expressed by nearly all in attendance egged on by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz leading the demonstration. He made branding Cheney a “beltway bureaucrat” out of touch with her own constituents the theme of his 45-minute remarks.
“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.,” Gaetz said, railing against the Wyoming congresswoman for having spent her life in and around the nation’s capital only to move to the Cowboy State to seek high office.
.@mattgaetz speaking to a packed plaza at the Capitol.
— Tristan Justice (@JusticeTristan) January 28, 2021
Although Cheney’s vote with Democrats on impeachment sparked her home state backlash, Gaetz’s remarks remained shy on the singular issue and instead pivoted to characterizing Cheney as antithetical to the populist movement rising under Trump, foreshadowing primary battles to come and signaling a warning to GOP senators weighing a conviction.
Gaetz spoke zealously of what he called “prairie populism” while hammering away at the unchecked powers of the big tech empire, Biden’s opening the floodgates of illegal immigration, the suspension of liberties under draconian lockdowns, and the erosion of the culture at the behest of woke liberals indoctrinating the nation with critical race theory.
The most prominent portions of Gaetz’s speech targeting Cheney centered on foreign policy, an area in which the Wyoming congresswoman has carved out a neoconservative reputation of supporting endless foreign wars. Cheney has made consistent criticism of the Republican president who left office without starting any new wars while successfully brokering new peace deals across the Middle East.
“It’s pretty easy to get a little makeup off my shirt, far more difficult for Liz Cheney to get the blood off her hands after sending America’s best to foreign lands,” Gaetz said, tying Cheney to her father’s instrumental role in the Bush administration’s conflicts in the Middle East, although she wasn’t elected to Congress until 2016. The snark played on a reference to the running feud between the two in the run up to the rally, where a Cheney spokesperson said on Sunday that Gaetz could “leave his beauty bag at home. In Wyoming, the men don’t wear make-up.” Cheney has previously criticized Gaetz for wearing makeup while on TV.
At issue Thursday was less Cheney’s vote on impeachment than a showing of resentment on issues that had been brewing under the surface, a clash of diverging worldviews in the post-Trump presidency between Trumpism and the Bush-era order that defined the GOP at the start of the century.
While the country has entered the post-Trump White House, it’s only begun the next chapter of the post-Trump era. The ex-president remains the most popular Republican in the country. Protestors gathered at the state Capitol Thursday flew Trump flags and wore Trump memorabilia despite the results in November, because Trump wasn’t just a president but a symbol of a 21st-century counter-cultural movement that gave rise to a new conservative populism that had been years in the making.
Cheney’s problems in Wyoming triggered by impeachment offers a warning to Republican senators now considering a conviction vote that could ostensibly mark themselves outcasts of the new Republican Party loyal to the movement represented by the ex-president.
According to a poll conducted this week by Trump pollster John McLaughlin, only 10 percent of Republican primary voters said they would vote for Cheney in an upcoming party contest. Just 13 percent said they would support her re-election in the general pending a survival in the primary.
Cheney’s unpopularity in her own state spells bad news for the nine other lawmakers who voted with her on impeachment. That includes northeast Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, who is likely to face a primary challenge from former state Rep. Christina Hagan, who mounted a competitive challenge for the open seat in 2018.
“I have never seen a greater amount of backlash for any one single vote taken by any one single member of our Republican congressional delegation in Ohio,” Hagan told Politico.
There won’t be a major party civil war in the Republican Party in the run up to 2022 or 2024 as the Cheney-types might hope. Trumpism is too popular. But there will be referendums on the few lawmakers who reject the party’s populist base.