When a state lawmaker proclaimed at a recent pre-election meeting that a “red wave” would soon hit Wyoming, the mostly Republican crowd went wild.
I laughed. Out loud. Pretty unprofessional of me, and not very bright, since I was covering an event in decidedly unfriendly territory. But come on, folks — how much redder can we get?
As it turns out, the state is now a deeper shade of red after an election that put 86 Republicans in the Legislature’s 93 seats. Why, my face is turning red just thinking about it. The reaction is equal parts embarrassment and anger.
Why is Wyoming marching even further right at a time when other conservative states recognize that “Make America Great Again” isn’t really a patriotic movement? MAGA is a radical slogan, not a way of governing.
GOP candidates who lie about the 2020 presidential election being “rigged” against former president Donald Trump were losers in many states. Here they coasted to victory, vanquishing opponents who told the well-documented truth: Trump lost fair and square, by 7 million votes.
The former president suffered the same crushing Electoral College defeat that he’d handed Hilary Clinton in 2016, but his ego won’t accept it. Trump did everything he could to stay in power, including inciting a violent insurrection at the Capitol, where former Vice President Mike Pence was pursued by criminals in MAGA caps ready to kill him.
Trump will gladly do it again, and damn the consequences for anyone who gets in his way. Many expect him to announce his re-election bid today.
But his plan to have his cronies in charge of that upcoming election fell short. In every battleground state where Republican election deniers ran for secretary of state, they lost.
But in Wyoming, Rep. Chuck Gray won the Republican nomination on claims of rampant fraud where none exists. No Republican, independent or minority party candidate could be recruited to run against him in the general election. Democrats bailed early without even putting up a fight.
Why would they waste time and money, when all it takes to win in Wyoming is an “R” behind your name and Trump’s endorsement? Talk about tilting at windmills. Taking on Gray, who about half the House GOP caucus refuses to work with, would be like running head-on into a buzzsaw.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney was given the heave-ho in the primary by Republicans who felt betrayed by her vote to impeach Trump. Harriet Hageman stood on a Casper stage hand-in-hand with Trump in May, basking in the glow of 10,000 fans — most of whom couldn’t have picked her out of a line-up a year ago.
Now she can’t wait to get to Washington, D.C., as Wyoming’s new congresswoman and start tearing apart President Joe Biden’s “socialistic” agenda. But she’s not going to have as many comrades-in-arms as she expected.
At this writing, the red wave that a slew of TV talking heads and other media guaranteed hasn’t materialized. At best the GOP, with all of the political wind at its back, produced nothing more than a seeping crimson ooze — not unlike a bloody nose, really. Republicans failed to reclaim the Senate, and may when it’s all said and done actually lose a seat in the upper chamber. Control of the House, meanwhile, is still too close to call, though it looks like the GOP will squeak out a narrow majority.
That’s a far cry from the 30, 40 or even 60 seats pundits said the MAGA crowd would pick-up. One of the only places Trump’s slurry of fear and lies carried the day in force was Wyoming, capital of the ultra-MAGA brigade.
Do the Wyoming GOP’s many victories show Wyoming is a model for the Republican National Committee to follow, or is it evidence our voters are hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the country?
I think the latter is correct, and here’s why: Republicans didn’t perform as expected in the midterm elections because the party allowed Trump to hand-pick inferior candidates.
Sure, hand the keys to the twice-impeached guy who lost the popular vote in 2016, dropped 40 House seats on his watch in 2018 and was shellacked by Biden in 2020. Republicans should have pushed Trump into an Uber at Mar-a-Lago to take him on a one-way trip to the Everglades until the election was over.
Trump selected sycophants like Hageman all over the map, who repeated his “election was rigged” lies ad nauseam. Many supporters predict (or is it threaten?) riots in the street if Trump loses in 2024.
Judging by election results across the nation, voters supported candidates who will steer us away from violence. Even with Biden’s approval rating underwater, food and gas prices out of control and three-fourths of the electorate saying we’re headed in the wrong direction, the very real threat of ending democracy motivated voters to back away from Trump-aligned candidates.
But not here in Wyoming, where Trump rules and his worshippers — QAnon disciples, election deniers, Oath Keepers, Capitol rioters and their “fans” — run the party and make up its base. Everyone is welcome under the Wyoming Republican Party’s big tent!
Except those pesky RINOs — Republicans in name only — that Wyoming Chairman Frank Eathorne wants purged from the ranks. Plus anyone who’s pro-choice, LGBTQ or dares suggest that white men in America have enjoyed a couple of advantages not available to others.
Eathorne is an alleged Oath Keepers member who stood outside the Capitol for more than two hours, watching it overrun by an angry mob bent on ending the peaceful transition of power at the heart of our constitutional republic. He issued a statement that said he didn’t see any violence, the “Sergeant Shultz defense” of indefensible actions.
Standing next to Eathorne on the plaza was Bob Ide, who’s just been elected to Wyoming’s Senate. This less-than-dynamic duo claims they didn’t storm the Capitol, but their presence gave tacit approval of criminal behavior. Even with this on his resume, Ide sent traditional conservative and former Senate President Drew Perkins packing in the primary. Democrats let Ide breeze to victory, unchallenged.
The contest that best represents the kind of change I see coming next year was the Republican primary for House District 58, represented since 2017 by Pat Sweeney.
The Casper businessman is a staunch fiscal conservative who also holds the traditional — though now widely abandoned — Republican belief that government should stay out of people’s personal lives. But refusing to interfere with women’s healthcare decisions or the rights of LGBTQ folks is a bad look amid the GOP-led culture wars and he was mercilessly taunted and targeted by advocacy groups and his own party’s leaders.
At a far-right group’s candidate forum, Sweeney had the courage to answer questions while wearing a mask. When the legislator was booed and told to take it off, Sweeney explained he’s on medication that suppresses his immune system, putting him at greater risk of COVID-19.
“If I had chemotherapy right now, would you say the same thing?” he asked the crowd.
“Pat, you sicken me,” said Sweeney’s opponent, Bill Allemand, to raucous laughter. He won by 563 votes and, unopposed in the general election, he will now take his clueless, classless act to Cheyenne.
About one-third of state lawmakers will be new. I don’t know how far to the right the pendulum has swung in either the House or Senate, but it has definitely moved in that direction.
Trump has made it OK for Wyoming politicians to castigate opponents and lie that the state lacks “election integrity.” Doing so rewards them, so why stop?
Because it’s unacceptable and indecent, and Wyomingites have rejected such destructive, undemocratic behavior in the past. The question now looming over the Equality State is how long are we going to take it?