Wyoming’s Republican Party talks frequently about the importance of freedom and liberty. They are quick to criticize Democrats for being intolerant to different ways of thinking and lampoon liberals for being “snowflakes” who can’t take criticism.
And yet, party leaders here, for all of their purported love of independence, have sought to ostracize anyone who does think differently – even when it comes to their own members. In fact, they are so opposed to the idea that someone might have a different view of what it is to be a Republican that they attempted to disenfranchise Wyoming’s second-most populated county to prove their point.
Consider the recent attempt by the party’s hard-line leadership to keep Natrona County delegates out of the GOP state convention. The effort failed – but only barely. And even that required an intervention from some of our country’s most powerful GOP lawmakers including Rep. Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso.
The issue stems from a growing schism between the extreme far-right wing of the party and more mainstream elements and is most exemplified in the feud between party leaders and Joe McGinley, the party chairman in Natrona County. Those disagreements came to a head on May 9 when members of the state party’s credentialing committee attempted to bar Natrona County’s delegates from the convention, effectively removing their voices from larger policy discussions. At issue were a number of technicalities over how Republicans in Natrona County conducted a remote convention as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But it appeared to many that what Natrona County was really being punished for was a failure to conform to the extreme right’s narrow point of view. Consider the extraordinary letter that former U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Cubin, a tea party supporter who could hardly be described as a moderate, sent to party members, railing against actions she likened to the actions of the Soviet Union.
“The decision to not seat the Natrona County delegation is shameful. Anyone who supports it should be ashamed. The behavior is that of the Soviet Politburo. Your action is antithetical to the principles this country was founded on. You will relegate yourselves and the party to irrelevance. In this country, we allow the voice of the opposition.”
The fact that someone with the record of Cubin is now being branded a RINO or a moderate suggests party leaders have lost their way. The fact that leaders who espouse freedom deny freedom of thought to members of their own party reflects a bitter irony.
The irony doesn’t stop there. Members of Wyoming’s extreme far right have railed against voting fraud and pushed back against efforts to encourage mail-in voting. And yet the voting that took place over that weekend was quickly called into question, as people who shouldn’t have been able to vote were given online ballots. Others said they never received ballots or worse, that their votes were not counted. House Majority Whip Tyler Lindholm called it a “wreck and absolute failure.”
A mess like this should be a concern for all of Wyoming. Republicans dominate our politics and will do so for the foreseeable future. It’s in all our interests to have a healthy party, one that encourages debate and tolerates various perspectives of conservatism.
Unfortunately, there’s little to suggest things will change until and unless members of all stripes in the party’s membership decide the only way to right the ship is to get involved, to steer the party away from the extreme towards the more moderate and tolerant big-tent approach that defined the party for decades. Short of that, the risk is that criticisms like this one will be dismissed out of hand. Purity tests will continue. Smart, capable people will be called into question. And in Wyoming, if you are a Big Tent Republican, your greatest threat will not be Democrats or progressives. It will be the extreme right of your party.