On the surface, the Wyoming Republican Party appears to be a healthy juggernaut.
After all, the GOP here is the overwhelmingly dominant political force. The state’s congressional delegation is exclusively Republican, as are Wyoming’s top five elected officials. The Legislature is bright red. So is the state as a whole, outside of a few blue enclaves in the towns of Jackson and Laramie.
But while the Republican Party is certainly ascendant in Wyoming, that success hasn’t been able to mask the dysfunction that’s occurred in the past year among the party’s most involved members. Last week, the party convention was marred by a fight and threats of lawsuits. The division between the far right and more moderate elements continues to widen, as does the gap between large and small counties. It seems, without a serious challenge from the Democrats, the Wyoming Republican Party is intent on battling itself.
Of course, most voters are less passionate about politics than those attending political conventions. They might cast ballots on Election Day, but they’re less likely to care much about party bylaws. One might ask why it matters if a relatively small group of Republicans can’t get along with one another.
It’s important because Republicans are the dominate force in Wyoming governance. The decisions that party elites make ultimately affect our politics at large. And so when the party is dysfunctional, it’s inevitable that dysfunction bleeds into our politics at large.
Consider what’s transpired over the past year. The fight and legal threats of the past weekend come on the heels of an effort by the party’s hardline leadership in May to keep Natrona County delegates out of the state convention.
The effort failed only after an intervention from powerful GOP lawmakers including Rep. Liz Cheney and Sen. John Barrasso. And let’s not forget the voting problems at the May virtual convention, which prompted some in the party to brand the results as “illegitimate.” This from the same party that lectures us about voter fraud.
The schism highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes a successful political party. The far-right party leadership has worked to wring out dissent or free thinking, opting for rules that stress ideological purity over pragmatism. But that’s not what the vast majority of voters want. They want a brand of politics that provides a good education to the state’s children, that allows businesses to flourish, that provides for the safety and well-being of the people who live here.
This push toward ideological purity has resulted in politicians who waste time on wedge issues rather than solutions that are overwhelmingly supported. It’s resulted in representatives whose views don’t actually represent the sensible politics of the majority of Wyomingites. Meanwhile, instead of a big tent, we’ve been offered one fit for a circus.
So what’s the solution? We don’t expect current party leaders to suddenly acknowledge this dysfunction. Rather, they’ll quickly brand this, like whatever else they disagree with, as fake news, all the while perpetuating the destructive intra-party squabble.
Instead, the solution must come with new blood. People who support pragmatic solutions must stand up and get involved in politics on the county and local level, instead of ceding control to the most extreme voices. They should push for politicians who will solve actual problems rather than focusing on fringe issues and scaring voters with nonexistent boogeymen. Wyoming is best served by a healthy Republican party, one populated by people who reflect the true variety of views held by diverse Republican voters.