Firebrand Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have torn into their GOP colleagues at a red-meat-filled rally, in an ambitious attempt to force party leadership to fall in line with their pro-Trump faction of the party.
Gaetz and Greene kicked off their barnstorming ‘America First Tour’ with an event on Friday night at The Villages, Florida the massive retirement community known as a fierce Trump stronghold.
‘We’ve got this battle going on right now for the soul of the Republican Party,’ Gaetz told the roaring crowd of senior citizens. ‘Maybe we’re the leaders, Marjorie. Maybe they should follow us!’
‘Today, we send a strong message to the weak establishment in both parties: America First isn´t going away. We are going on tour,’ Gaetz said.
It comes as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is focused on winning back GOP control of the House next year, faces tough decisions about whether siding with the populist faction represented by Gaetz and Greene will help or hurt the party in the midterms.
As soon as next week, McCarthy is expected to lead the party to an inflection point by calling a vote on whether to dump Rep. Liz Cheney, who is outspoken in condemning Trump’s election fraud claims, from the No. 3 House leadership position.
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Firebrand Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene held the first event of their ‘America First Tour’ on Friday, as they put pressure on party leadership in the GOP civil war
The rally took place at The Villages, Florida the massive retirement community known as a fierce Trump stronghold
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (left), under pressure from the GOP populist wing, is expected to call a vote next week on ousting Rep. Liz Cheney (right) from leadership
Gaetz, a third-term Floridian, and Greene, a Georgia freshman, have attracted more public attention lately than most junior members of Congress – and now they are hoping to harness their high profiles to rally the party base and strike fear into leadership.
At Friday’s rally, Gaetz and Greene did lob attacks at standard nemeses including Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Greene reiterated her call to impeach President Joe Biden.
But the rally was extraordinary in the amount of time the duo spent tearing into their own GOP colleagues — though rarely by name, with the exception of Cheney.
‘I didn’t go to the Republican retreat, because I feel like the Republicans have been in a constant state of retreat,’ said Gaetz, referring to the annual House GOP retreat held last month in Orlando. ‘I’m ready for an advance, not a retreat!’
‘They go to the retreat and basically the whole retreat is Kevin McCarthy fighting with Liz Cheney,’ he said. ‘Why did they not listen to us like, three four months ago when we said, this is not going to work?’
‘When somebody’s fundamental view is that we don’t need to work on election integrity, we don’t need to worry about the crisis at the border, we could find four more countries to invade before lunchtime tomorrow – that person should not be the spokesperson for the Republican Party,’ Gaetz said of Cheney.
‘We’ve got this battle going on right now for the soul of the Republican Party,’ Gaetz told the roaring crowd of senior citizens
At one point, Greene said she had a ‘list’ of Republican colleagues in the House who had supported her removal from committee assignments over incendiary remarks
Gaetz addressed the sex trafficking allegations against him as he took the stage on Friday, saying he’s a ‘marked man’ in Congress and ‘perhaps a wanted man’ by the ‘deep state’
‘We voted to kick her out a few months ago,’ Greene added of Cheney. ‘We were ahead on this. We don’t understand why it took leadership and everybody else [so long] to get to this point. But that’s the problem isn’t it?’
At one point, Greene said she had a ‘list’ of Republican colleagues in the House who had supported her removal from committee assignments over incendiary remarks she made on Facebook before her election.
‘It is no long the blue team against the red team in politics. It’s the establishment against the rest of us!’ said Gaetz at one point.
Gaetz and Greene have been at the center of recent high-profile controversies. The Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws and had sex with a 17-year-old girl, and McCarthy has suggested he’ll take action if Gaetz is indicted.
Gaetz addressed the allegations as he took the stage on Friday, saying he’s a ‘marked man’ in Congress and ‘perhaps a wanted man’ by the ‘deep state’.
He has denied the accusations against him, which were described by people familiar with the investigation. He hasn’t been charged with any crimes and says he is ‘absolutely not resigning.’
And a memo linked to Greene described a proposed America First Caucus hailing ‘Anglo-Saxon political traditions’ and warning of immigration’s threat to the U.S.’s ‘unique culture,’ prompting McCarthy to denounce ‘nativist dog whistles.’
Greene called the caucus memo a staff-level proposal that she had not read from an outside group she didn’t identify. She said ‘America First’ embraces people ‘of every race, creed, and color,’ and added, ‘I will never back down.’
Gaetz, a third-term Floridian, and Greene, a Georgia freshman, have attracted more public attention lately than most junior members of Congress
Unlike most lawmakers, the two have sources of power that make them tough for leaders to curb, including safe districts, high profiles and massive fundraising ability
An attendee who only gave her name as Sherry dances in the crowd during a rally featuring Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Friday in The Villages
Attendees cheer during a rally featuring Gaetz and Greene as they kick off their national tour
Unlike most lawmakers, the two have sources of power that make them tough for leaders to curb.
Their formulas include raising lots of money, amassing social media followers, appearing often on television, representing strongly conservative districts and being allied with former President Donald Trump, who´s still idolized by legions of Republicans.
Their association with Trump ‘gives a lot of psychological power to the firebrands to know that they’re on pretty safe ground,’ said former Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., a hardline conservative who battled party leaders.
‘In the past, if you wanted your profile as elevated as Matt Gaetz’s or Marjorie Taylor Greene’s, you’d run for president,’ said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, another conservative who´s clashed with leadership.
Protesters gather outside a rally featuring Gaetz and Greene in The Villages
While The Villages is known as a Trump stronghold, the community’s Democrats and moderate Republicans opposed to the populist wing made their views known with a protest outside
From January 2019 through last week, Gaetz’s 209 weekday appearances on the three major cable TV networks – nearly all on conservative Fox News – were exceeded by only five other members of Congress, according to Media Matters, a liberal group that monitors online political activity.
His congressional and personal Twitter accounts both boast at least 1 million followers.
‘The really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument,’ Gaetz told the producers of ‘The Swamp,’ a 2019 HBO documentary. ‘And that’s power that leadership can never take away from you.’
Greene, in Congress since January, has 400,000 Twitter followers but has made no daytime appearances on the three top cable networks. She has appeared on the Trump-friendly One America News Network and Newsmax TV.
She also reported raising $3.2 million during this year’s first three months. That’s more than double the $1.5 million the typical House GOP incumbent spent on the entire 2020 election, according to Federal Election Commission figures.
Gaetz reported raising $1.8 million through March.