It was difficult to know who was more irritated, me or the Walmart checker. I was pissed because she was moving slow. She was pissed because the election was stolen. Too squeamish to listen closely, too fascinated to ignore, I half-listened to her conversation with the customer ahead of me as the checker moved items (sloth like) across the scanner. In short order, they volleyed the words “fraud,” “sham” and “rigged” while simultaneously clucking their tongues and praying for our country.
The ladies’ MAGA haiku parroted at countless candidate forums this summer (all of it baseless and self-serving) neatly summed up everything wrong in my Republican Party. Though we likely share many conservative values, this far-right view is not representative of the values held by so many of us in the GOP, and the continued perpetuation of rigged election and fear mongering has been nothing but destructive, both for the party and our state.
Yet, despite indications across the country that the former president is losing his grip on the Republican Party, “MAGA forever!” remains a winning strategy here in Wyoming where both chambers of the Legislature push further right each election cycle.
Almost half of the Wyoming House members are new. At least one-third of them align with the most rigid arm of the Republican Party, the Freedom Caucus, whose runny definition of “freedom” pinballs between whimsical and reactionary.
Still, love is strong for those candidates who perpetuated MAGA falsehoods on the campaign trail. It should be the shame of the state that Natrona County Republican voters elected candidate Bob Ide, who was on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6th, into the State Senate.
There’s a disconnect here. Gov. Gordon, who has deftly maneuvered the line between party extremists and party moderates, was recently named America’s most popular governor. The people love him. The hardliners who control his own state party do not.
At a recent GOP event in Converse County, for example, most of the public officials in the room received polite applause upon introduction, according to a friend of mine who was there. Secretary of State Chuck Gray, however, received a standing ovation. Gray’s campaign was heavy on misinformation, hosting statewide free movie nights of the MAGA porn show “2000 Mules,” which alleges a vast conspiracy by unnamed left-wing groups to steal the 2020 election. Since its release, law enforcement officials and fact-checkers have thoroughly discredited the film’s allegations. The filmmakers have declined to provide evidence for their central claims, likely because there is no credible evidence to support this dark fairy tale.
Yet Gray handily defeated Sen. Tara Nethercott, an experienced and accomplished Republican lawmaker who demonstrated a deep knowledge of the secretary of state’s office and its function, but an unwillingness to embrace election lies. The irony, of course, is that the folks who ran on the premise of a rigged election system were the successful products of that very system. What will that look like when they have the keys to the secretary of state’s office?
Don’t panic. Nothing is in control. Alt-right lawmakers will likely continue pandering to an electorate snuggled in their vacuum of disinformation. They’ll thumb their noses at decorum and thump their chests at their very meanness. They view it as a badge of honor. I view it as a disgrace. Such preening is a grave disservice to our state and the net effect is a paralyzed legislative body. Nobody wins.
Lawmaking is serious business. The federal government owns almost half the land in Wyoming. Our state budget is a complex web of funding streams and — like it or not — a significant portion comes from the federal government. We rely on federal revenues to fund health care, social services, highways, housing, clean water, critical infrastructure and innumerable other government functions. This past year, several rural hospitals discontinued offering obstetric care for expectant mothers. Rather than ignoring these facts in favor of simply bashing the federal government for political expediency, lawmakers need to focus on providing solutions instead of winning Patriot of the Day in the Legislature.
Seasoned lawmakers will tell you the job is much trickier, more nuanced than they ever imagined prior to holding their seat. Issues facing our state simply cannot be solved through lazy loyalty no-votes. There’s plenty of present and former conservatives who have skillfully threaded the needle between necessary legislation to keep our economy pumping and limiting government. I hope the extremists get that.
This is my party too. Will this blood-red arm of the Legislature represent all conservative voices? When faced with the meaty reality of lawmaking, who among the outer banks of the party will be courageous enough to walk back the rhetoric and put public service ahead of their political ambitions? I encourage our lawmakers to fight the temptation to burn precious session time grandstanding on who should use what bathroom and instead focus on the boring business of state government.
The extremists’ currency is fear. My Walmart checker friend nailed it. She’s scared for our country. Dangerous times. Though she can’t articulate her concerns with cogent authority, she just knows she’s afraid. Far simpler to limit those conversations to the checkout line. We’ll expect more from our lawmakers, notwithstanding their hue of red, to ignore the bogeyman and focus on the mundane.