The PR pros say there’s “no such thing as bad publicity,” but there is such a thing as divisive, counterproductive, even dangerous political speech. And as campaigns increasingly compete in cyberspace — where outrage is the currency of the realm — candidates are often all too willing to buy attention at the cost of civility, or even basic human decency.
Elected officials, of course, hold no monopoly on shameful social media behavior, but I believe they should be held to a higher standard than the general public.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) sparked national debate recently when he tweeted anime videos depicting assaults on President Joe Biden and a Democratic lawmaker. But he was hardly the first politician to blow past the line. In fact, his toxic tweets were preceded by three recent examples in Wyoming politics.
State Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne), who is seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in next year’s GOP primary, is a central figure in all three incidents.
In September, Bouchard created a meme for his campaign’s Facebook page that depicted a noose with a superimposed image of White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci. “After prosecution, the chair, the gallows, or lethal injection?” the candidate asked.
There was no need to even pose the question, since Bouchard set himself up as the judge, jury and executioner. Fauci has been a favorite target of Bouchard’s since the outset of the pandemic.
Joe Barbuto, chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party, issued a sharp rebuke of Bouchard’s “willingness to lower the political discourse to such despicable and dangerous depths.” He called for legislative leaders to condemn Bouchard’s meme. They didn’t.
Bouchard countered that Democrats did the same thing to former President Donald Trump. “If that’s the way it’s going to be, that only [Democrats] can say it, but if somebody else does it’s a problem … oh boy that’s scary,” he told WyoFile.
To be sure, many people have blistered Trump on social media since he became a candidate. But Bouchard misses the point. He’s not only an elected official, he’s also seeking a seat in Congress.
And while he defended his handiwork, the senator removed it from his Facebook page.
Bouchard’s gaffe didn’t dissuade State Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) from posting a meme of soldiers from a war long ago charging over a trench. “When life gives you lemons FIX BAYONETS!” it read.
McKeown’s rambling explanation accompanying the post referred to a Laramie High School student’s arrest for trespassing after she violated a mask mandate. It also included a clear threat.
“So one of our school districts arrest a student for violating their unconstitutional mandates and the senate refuses to hear a bill to reduce their authority but passes a gambling bill you know where their priorities are,” he wrote. “We will not lay down. In fact, some defended the school boards … the conservatives will no longer be bullied by the powers that be. Remember it’s the 3rd rib.”
Bouchard quickly reposted his colleague’s work, and added on his own page, “Deep in the third rib.”
I never thought I’d be searching about “bayonets” on Google, but I learned that the reference is related to one of the most effective ways to kill someone using a knife. A website advised, “Going between the second and third, or third and fourth ribs will most likely give a direct hit to the liver. Wounds to the liver are fatal if not immediately treated.”
McKeown told the Gillette News Record that it was a “figurative post” born of frustration with his legislative colleagues during the special session called to counter federal vaccine mandates. “I’m not trying to incite violence,” he said.
This time, a biting response came from a fellow Republican, former House Speaker Tom Lubnau of Gillette. “What did that mean, if it didn’t mean exactly what it meant?” he asked. “That’s not a funny comment, that’s not a tongue-in-cheek comment, that’s not a sarcastic comment.”
Bouchard rarely adheres to the unwritten rule not to criticize members of your own party. In fact, intra-party name calling has become his stock and trade. He recently called one GOP senator a “swamp monster” and “flat-out liar,” while tagging another as a “slime ball.”
But while McKeown kept his bayonet post up, Bouchard meekly took his response down. He’s a bully, so I don’t give him credit for making the right decision. Bouchard likely just didn’t want to share the heat with his buddy.
Several Republican legislators, including Bouchard, played rancid roles in another controversy. Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided when Bouchard’s bill to prohibit federal vaccine mandates was killed in March.
Troy Bray, a Park County Republican official, sent a scathing email to Nethercott. “If I were as despicable as you, I would kill myself to rid the world of myself,” he wrote. “Thank you for ensuring that the people of Wyoming are subjected to tyranny once again.”
He profanely signed off, “F*** YOU C***.”
Nethercott didn’t take the bait. “Please continue to reach out with questions or comments, we do appreciate hearing from you,” she responded. But other senators learned about the exchange and were outraged.
Even if he was upset about his bill, Bouchard should have condemned Bray’s intolerable action. Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) and House Speaker Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) did, calling out Bray’s “violent and threatening statements.”
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson blasted Bray for “one of the coarsest, foulest, ignorant, dumb-witted things that has ever been sent to a chairman of the Judiciary Committee.”
Bouchard’s classless comment? He piled on, calling Nethercott “an absolute Tyrant. … I’m tired of being told to be nice to Liars and Tyrants,” he wrote on Facebook. Bray gave it a thumbs up.
What is wrong with these people? Why are they taking civil political discourse and blowing it to smithereens?
It’s because they expect to get away with it. They could care less if party leaders chastise them. In Bouchard’s case, he revels in it. If he stays in the congressional race, expect more of the same — and probably worse.
How the U.S. House deals with Gosar — whose family has deep Wyoming roots — will show whether the chamber Bouchard aspires to join will put up with direct threats to other officials.
Gosar’s doctored anime tweet showed him swinging two swords at Biden and killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). He also posted real video footage of migrants crossing the Rio Grande, with animated blood splatters covering their bodies.
Democrats screamed foul, but said it’s what they expect from someone who has been linked to white supremacists. Gosar’s digital director, Jessica Lycos, told people that “everyone needs to relax.”
Democrats have moved to censure Gosar. Since they’re in control I suspect the endeavor will succeed, but it’s not enough. Anyone else in the country who threatened the president and a co-worker with violence would be in handcuffs. Gosar should be removed from Congress.
Bouchard’s conduct hasn’t received the same national attention (much to his chagrin), but it’s still disturbing. For the record, I haven’t been spared his barbs. On Facebook he’s nicknamed me “Drake the Snake.”
Considering the good company that puts me in with the other objects of his bullying, I consider it a badge of honor.