By Tom Coulter
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Hundreds of residents gathered in front of the Wyoming State Capitol on Thursday to protest Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s recent vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, an event that culminated with a speech from one of her most outspoken critics, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and a phone call from the ex-president’s son.
The event, which was organized partially by a Wyoming state lawmaker, came a couple weeks after Cheney joined nine other Republican representatives in voting to impeach Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. With many donning Trump hats and flags, the crowd of more than 400 began to gather around noon, with patriotic country music blaring near the front steps.
Gaetz, who has repeatedly called on Cheney to step down from her third-ranking role within the House Republican Conference, arrived about an hour later before the enthusiastic crowd, telling them that “our battle is no longer just Republican versus Democrat.”
“We deserve American greatness, not managed decline,” Gaetz said. “In that battle, it’s the establishment against the rest of us. They control big media, big corporations, big tech, big defense contractors, and they walk around Washington, D.C. with big checkbooks and even bigger egos.”
“But we’ve got something that is far more precious and far more powerful: We control the true spirit and identity of America,” he continued, followed by an eruption of “USA!” chants from the crowd.
Gaetz told the crowd that the power lies with them to defeat Cheney in the 2022 election, “and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees.”
“We’re Americans, and if there’s a fight for the soul of this country, we intend to win it,” Gaetz said. “With less regulation, with lower taxes, America’s best days are still yet to come. Don’t you ever let some spoiled celebrity or athlete or socialist politician ever tell you otherwise.”
About halfway through his speech, Gaetz called in Donald Trump Jr., who told the crowd over a cellphone speaker that “it seems like Liz Cheney’s favorables there are only slightly worse than her father’s shooting skills.”
“In leadership, they’re supposed to do a couple of things. You’re supposed to raise money, you’re supposed to recruit new members, you’re supposed to lead,” Trump Jr. said. “I’ve been pretty involved for the last few years, and I haven’t seen Liz Cheney do any of those things, so it’s time to have a change.”
Trump Jr. said the state should find one candidate to run against Cheney, rather than have a bunch of campaigns against Cheney that result in “RINO losers” helping to reelect the congresswoman. He emphasized a choice did not need to be made immediately.
The crowd, which often booed whenever Cheney was mentioned, included many folks who had previously supported the congresswoman’s campaigns for office.
“If you were playing the Super Bowl, then half of your team decided to go the other way in the middle of the game, what would you think about your team? It let you down,” said Fred Tindell, a 72-year-old sporting a “Make America Great Again” face covering. “That’s about as traitor as you can ever get.”
Tindell came over Thursday morning from Laramie for the rally with his partner, Jenelle Gaddis, who had also previously voted for Cheney.
“I was very surprised when she voted to impeach,” Gaddis, 73, said. “It really kind of made me mad that without even reaching out to the Wyomingites and our feelings, she just voted that direction … I’ve personally left messages and sent emails (to her office) and haven’t received anything back.”
While the vast majority of those in the crowd were there in opposition to Cheney, a few people showed up to push back against the perspectives offered by Gaetz. Throughout the rally, a group of counterprotesters from the Laramie Human Rights Network stood about 20 yards away holding a sign that read, “Florida Fascist Go Home.”
Other attendees came from out of state for the event. Josie Hughes woke up at 5 a.m. Thursday to come from Vail, Colorado, to the rally. While not one of Cheney’s constituents, the congresswoman’s vote still spurred her to come see Gaetz, who she described as brave for making an appearance.
“How dare her impeach our president,” Hughes, 48, said of Cheney. “He didn’t incite any violence, and even if he did, that’s what the Democrats have been doing all summer.”
Sam Miller, an 18-year-old speaking on behalf of the counter-protest group, said while they were “not fans” of Cheney as a lawmaker, her impeachment vote was a good one.
“Matt Gaetz has come here and named a rally against Liz Cheney, but more broadly, he’s here to rally up the alt-right in Wyoming, to embolden both the extreme flank of the Wyoming GOP and state politics, and also, we have people here in the crowd with Confederate flags, with flags with guns on them,” Miller said.
“This is the kind of crowd that earlier this month stormed the Capitol, and he’s come here to bring that rhetoric that led to that insurrection,” he continued. “As Wyomingites, that makes our state less safe, and we don’t want him here.”
Although Gaetz and Trump Jr. remained in “wait and see” mode on the ideal challenger against Cheney, some in the crowd already had their sights set on state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, who announced his 2022 primary bid against her last week.
With the Wyoming Legislature a couple days into its brief, virtual session, some lawmakers were in the Capitol as the rally took place outside. A few, including Bouchard, came outside briefly to chat with people and watch things unfold.
At least one state lawmaker had a direct role in the event, as Gaetz’s visit was partially organized by new state Rep. Ocean Andrew, R-Laramie, who introduced the Florida congressman before he stepped to the podium.
While some were unsure of who they would support in a 2022 primary, the crowd was largely united in its refusal to vote for Cheney again. State Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, who came out while legislators were in recess, said Cheney’s impeachment vote was “a terrible wrong thing to do,” adding he would never vote for her again.
“In a heavily Republican state, she relied on the good, conservative Republican Party in the state to get elected. She also relied on President Trump for his help in getting her elected, and at the last second, to buy into Nancy Pelosi’s thing, to me, she stabbed him in the back,” French said. “She’s got a lot of explaining to do, and, in my opinion, as you look at this crowd, she’s in real political trouble.”
While certain of his opposition to Cheney, French said he was “weighing things” on which challenger he might support. He was open to the possibility of backing Bouchard.
“If he ends up the front runner, I know Anthony, and I’ll support him,” French said. “But yeah, I will not campaign nor vote for Liz Cheney.”
The congresswoman’s decision to impeach then-president Trump, which she described as a “vote of conscience,” has resulted in substantial blowback in Wyoming, with an online petition calling for her to be recalled gaining more than 50,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
A recent poll commissioned by Trump’s political action committee, Save America, further suggests some Wyomingites’ views of Cheney have turned sour. Released Wednesday, the poll of 500 likely voters in the state showed 69% of respondents were opposed to Cheney’s impeachment vote. When just including Republicans surveyed, that disapproval rate rises to 85%.
The poll also found Cheney trailing Bouchard in a potential head-to-head matchup, with 54% of Republican respondents favoring the Laramie County state senator in comparison to 21% for the current congresswoman.
Gaetz, while speaking to the crowd, hammered home the apparent disconnect between Cheney and many of her constituents.
“How can you even call yourself a representative when you don’t represent the will of the people?” Gaetz said to cheers. “Based on the numbers I’ve seen, Liz Cheney is less popular among Republicans in her own state than Muammar Gaddafi was among the Libyans.”