In a sign of the ferocity of the conflict in the Republican party, the Florida representative and Trump ultra-loyalist Matt Gaetz flew into Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Thursday to help whip up a crowd against Liz Cheney, the No 3 House Republican and member of GOP royalty who voted to impeach the former president for inciting the Capitol riot.
“Defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election,” Gaetz said, “and Wyoming will bring Washington to its knees. How can you call yourself a representative when you don’t represent the will of the people?”
Gaetz also called the daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney “a Beltway bureaucrat turned fake cow girl that supported an impeachment that is deeply unpopular in the state of Wyoming”.
In the fight for control of the Republican party from now until the 2022 midterms, Trump and his backers currently seem to be winning, despite losing the White House. At the very least, Cheney can expect a stern primary challenge.
As Gaetz spoke, thousands of miles away in Florida the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, was meeting the exiled ex-president at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Save America, a political action committee formed by Trump, said the two men had a “very good and cordial” conversation on “many topics, No1 of which was taking back the House in 2022”.
McCarthy said a “united conservative movement will strengthen the bonds of our citizens and uphold the freedoms our country was founded on”. But neither his country or his party is united and he is not taking strong action against extremist Republicans who Democrats say are dangerously deepening national divisions, not least around the pro-Trump Capitol attack on 6 January.
Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon-supporter elected unopposed in Georgia last year, has been the subject of multiple reports about her extremist views.
Amid uproar over a lack of action against a woman who has called for the execution of leading Democrats, subscribed to conspiracy theories about child murder and said school shootings are staged, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, asked: “Assigning her to the education committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook, when she mocked the killing of teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas – what could they be thinking?”
“Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing? It’s absolutely appalling, and I think the focus has to be on the Republican leadership of this House of Representatives for the disregard they have for the death of those children.”
Pelosi, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are among figures Greene has suggested should be killed. Saying “the enemy is within”, Pelosi also accused Republicans of making fellow representatives “concerned about members in the House of Representatives being a danger to them … we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”
Greene is not alone. McCarthy has not cracked down on Lauren Boebert, a pro-gun representative from Colorado who tweeted Pelosi’s whereabouts during the Capitol riot, as some members of the mob looked for lawmakers to capture or kill, and Andy Harris of Maryland, who tried to carry a gun into the House chamber.
In the Senate, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, who led moves to object to electoral college results on the day of the riot, have not been censured or expelled.
In the New York Times on Friday, Joanne B Freeman, a Yale historian and the author of The Field of Blood, a bestselling book about violence in Congress before the civil war, slammed the pursuit of “bullying as politics, the modus operandi of our departed chief”.
“Mass violence in Congress seemed possible in 1850,” Freeman wrote. “Now, 171 years later, it’s in the national mindscape once again. And for good reason.”
The president is charged with inciting an insurrectionist attack against the Capitol in which five people died, but 45 Republican senators voted against even holding a trial. The Trumpist far right has a grip on the party and its leaders are focusing only on regaining control of Congress.
Liz Cheney’s fate as a member of Republican House leadership is likely to be decided at a closed-door meeting next Wednesday. Her chances don’t look good.