If you walk past the Wyoming Republican Party’s tent these days, beware. You may have to dodge members being thrown out of the three-ring circus.
On Saturday, the party’s overachieving central committee censured Sen. Cale Case of Lander, denied support to Republicans running as independents in November and condemned the actions of a legislative committee and 10 GOP lawmakers.
The state party told Case, a Republican lawmaker for the past 30 years, to join a different party or run as an independent. Karl Allred of Uinta County bluntly delivered a similar message to Republicans who plan to challenge GOP primary winners as independents: “Get the hell out of the party.”
Case’s punishment, which is merely symbolic, was meted out for his failed effort to find someone to run against Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), the party’s secretary of state nominee, in the November general election. No stranger to bucking the party’s extreme-right, Case was joined in his efforts by other “mainstream” Republicans and a few Democrats.
The party’s establishment is justifiably horrified that without a challenger, Gray — an election denier who has claimed without evidence that there are “tremendous problems” with the security of Wyoming’s elections — is virtually guaranteed to win the job supervising Wyoming’s elections.
Gray defeated Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyene) by about 13,000 votes. That’s a pretty decisive victory, but he captured only 49.5% of the total. Ironically, if the Legislature had bowed to the state party’s demand for a run-off system that requires winners to get more than 50%, the pair would have faced off again in the general election.
Instead, Case went searching for a conservative to oppose Gray. He set his sights on former Republican legislator Nathan Winters, head of the “pro-life” Family Policy Alliance of Wyoming. Winters declined and endorsed Gray.
Now that he’s censured, the party won’t provide any financial or other support to Case. That’s no great loss, of course. Accustomed to being labeled a RINO — the derisive term for a “Republican in name only” — Case wasn’t exactly counting on state-party backing. Nor does he need it. Party apparatchiks can’t make Case remove the “R” behind his name on the ballot, and he is committed to remaining a Republican even if party leaders object.
Case is a member of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which is trying another way to keep Gray’s hands off the state’s elections. The panel is drafting a bill to put the secretary of state’s elections division under a new commission — a bit of free-thinking that earned the group its own dose of central committee ire.
Other Republican members include the co-chairs, Sen. Ogden Driskill of Devils Tower and Rep. Dan Zwonitzer of Cheyenne; Sens. Brian Boner of Douglas and Nethercott; and Reps. Jim Blackburn of Cheyenne, Aaron Clausen of Douglas, Danny Eyre of Lyman, Shelly Duncan of Lingle and Joe MacGuire of Casper. The only Republican spared from condemnation was Sen. Charles Scott of Casper, who spoke against the idea.
The party has zero leverage on at least five of the members. Blackburn and Eyre didn’t seek re-election, and Clausen, Duncan and MacGuire lost their primaries to more conservative opponents.
Case didn’t attend the meeting where he was censured, but released this statement: “I am sorry that the Republican Central Committee has regressed to the suppression of ideas, intolerance and a lack of civility, and the punishing of mainstream Republicans who do not embrace the more extreme elements of their thinking.”
One might consider Case guilty of violating his party’s “11th Commandment” to not speak ill of fellow Republicans like Gray. But the party itself threw that convention out the window long ago (along with other traditional GOP values like integrity, independent thought, civility, honesty and competence). Look no further than the routine attacks on any member who dares disagree with leadership’s edicts.
By throwing its support to primary winners and kicking any independent candidates to the curb, the committee may actually be paving the way for some RINO victories.
Rep. Lloyd Larsen of Lander, for example, ran unopposed in the Republican primary, and doesn’t face a Democratic challenger in the general. But despite serving as a quintessential conservative for years, the anonymous Republican attack site WyoRINO claims he only votes with the party 20% of the time. It labeled Larsen, who like Case has angered GOP officials by supporting Medicaid expansion, its “RINO of the Month” in December 2020.
Jeff Martin, on the other hand, is a Republican who decided to run against Larsen as an independent because he believes he’s ideologically more of a Republican than Larsen is.
With their opposition of such candidates, would-be party king makers are spurning just the type of loyal lap dogs they want to see in office.
Case is a traditional conservative with libertarian leanings, and generally viewed as a moderate in a Senate that moves further to the right each election. One of the reasons cited for Case’s censure was an op-ed he penned in April that called for Wyoming Republicans to again embrace former President Ronald Reagan’s guiding concept of a “big tent” that welcomes diverse opinions.
If that doesn’t sound seditious, it’s because it isn’t.
In 1967, as California’s governor, Reagan told his state’s Republican Assembly “there is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths. … Unity does not require unanimity of thought.”
Case described a Wyoming Republican philosophy that has strayed far from the party Reagan envisioned.
“At every turn, the Republican State Party leadership gives voice to a minority viewpoint that will not tolerate disagreement,” the senator wrote. “Tactics include censure and RINO-labeling of any dissenting viewpoint.”
“We are not a group of people who use cronyism to ‘stack the deck’ and control the narrative,” the state Republican Central Committee claimed in its censure resolution against Case. It’s a hollow defense of the group’s tactics. To name just one bit of contrary evidence, the party’s not-so tacit endorsement of congressional candidate Harriet Hageman against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and other rivals epitomized deck stacking, .
Cheney, of course, was censured by both the national and state GOP for her vote to impeach Donald Trump and subsequently clobbered by Hageman in the primary. But Case survived his pre-primary censure by Fremont County Republicans.
“I honestly think [the censure] helped me,” Case told me after he defeated his extreme-right opponent by 10 percentage points. “It got my people out to vote.”
Case, who doesn’t have a general election opponent, will be back in his Senate seat in January. Let’s hope he continues to serve as a thorn in the side of his party’s hierarchy for four more years, calling out its dictatorial demands and hypocritical positions.
In the meantime, WyoRINO is chastising Republicans who do have opponents. Take Rep. Jared Olsen, the September “RINO of the Month.” It gave him a 20% rating in adherence to the party’s “ideals,” and blasted him for funneling more tax dollars “to the extremely woke University of Wyoming.”
I’m a Democrat who admittedly fails to recognize many fine Republican achievements. I must give WyoRINO and state party officials credit for doing a bang-up job going after their own members.
It takes a special kind of political acumen to know that censuring, condemning and rebuking so many people is the only sure way to get a slate of “pure” candidates who agree with the party bosses about everything. But if they keep treating people with so little respect, eventually they’ll have more on their “naughty” list than they have obedient soldiers in their culture wars.
I know my party will welcome those rejects with open arms. We aren’t afraid of candidates who think for themselves and offer new ideas, so any victims of the Republican purge should know they have a new home waiting for them. I hope voters feel the same way.