Foster Friess tied himself to Donald Trump and the president returned the favor.

Memo to Mr. Friess, who has indicated he’ll continue playing Wyoming politics: Next time you might ask Trump to not endorse you on a day when his ex-lawyer implicated him in a campaign crime and his former campaign manager was convicted of eight felonies.

Friess lost the GOP gubernatorial nomination by seven percentage points to State Treasurer Mark Gordon, the only candidate in the Republican field to have held elected office — as if that’s some kind of qualification to be our chief executive! Along with his black cowboy hat, Friess threw about $2 million of his own money into the ring.

Tuesday morning Trump tweeted his emphatic support for Friess, who has been a megadonor to many losing conservative Republicans (i.e. Rick Santorum), before entering the political arena for the first time as a candidate. Complete with his usual improper capitalization here’s what the president wrote:

“To the incredible people of the Great State of Wyoming: Go VOTE TODAY for Foster Friess – He will be a fantastic Governor! Strong on Crime, Borders & Second Amendment. Loves our Military and our Vets. He has my complete and total Endorsement!”

That night at a West Virginia rally, Trump bragged about his golden touch making endorsements as Friess lost the Wyoming election: “These endorsements – and I’m not saying it from my standpoint. They’re going [by margins of] 20, 30, 40, 50 points. Fifty points, it’s crazy.”

It is crazy. Trump won by 40 points in Wyoming in the 2016 presidential contest. Why didn’t that love for America’s populist billionaire carry over to the populist multi-millionaire he backed for governor?  

I don’t think the president will spend too much time worrying about how he lost his king-making power in the Cowboy State, of all places. He’s got a lot more pressing things on his mind: Robert Mueller, Russia, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, witch hunts, collusion, pardons, hush money to former girlfriends, late-night calls to BFF Vladimir Putin….

No wonder he’s still up at 1 a.m. tweeting up a storm — who could sleep with all that hanging over his head? Foster who?

I was shocked that Friess’ lengthy list of endorsements couldn’t secure the nomination. Friess had Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., actor Chuck Norris, Rick Santorum, Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle, the Family Research Council, Wyoming Right to Life and the Tea Party Patriots all on his side.

Who couldn’t win with that stellar line-up? Gordon only had endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, 16 state representatives, five state senators and 16 former lawmakers.

I don’t actually think most Wyoming primary voters were waiting with baited breath on election day to see which right-wing candidate Trump would endorse. But we’ll never really know, will we? It does give Democrats an opportunity to say that people in the state are no longer so enamored of the president that they will blindly follow him.

Friess almost immediately blamed Democrats who crossed over to cast GOP ballots as the reason he lost. In an email to Wyoming Republican Chairman Frank Eathorne, and each of the other also-rans, he proposed changing election law to restrict party changes at the polls. He also suggested instituting a runoff election to give ultra-conservatives who now split the vote a better chance at gaining the nomination.

Wyoming Republican legislators who’ve been upset by fringe candidates losing previous gubernatorial primaries have tried but failed to pass bills restricting party affiliation changes. One that made the limit at least 30 days before a primary passed the House in 2017 but failed by one vote to make it out of the Senate Corporations Committee. No doubt we’ll see similar bills introduced next year.

Friess also made the outlandish claim that “the Democrats have been able to control our elections.”

You can’t hear me chuckling but believe me, I am. How dare all those powerful Democrats (who accounted for 18 percent of the state’s total registered voters on Aug. 1) pick on Republicans and choose their standard-bearer? Nevermind that there were 177,604 registered Republicans before the polls opened on Tuesday and that about 148,000 — roughly 83 percent — chose not to vote for him. Yep, it had to be those crafty Dems.

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Similar whining resulted after the 2010 GOP primary for governor when Matt Mead, who went on to win in a landslide in the general election, narrowly defeated Rita Meyer and Ron Micheli. Yep, Democrats were accused of calling the shots in that election, too.

Here’s an idea for Wyoming Republicans: If a majority of you can’t stand right-wing candidates for governor losing, pick one of the hopefuls to throw his/her hat in the ring and have the others bow out. How would the field be pared? Take your pick — in smoke-filled back rooms, by straw ballot, or a spirited contest of rock-paper-scissors?  

But that’s ridiculous, right? Any Republican who wants to file for the office has that right under the democratic principles we hold dearly. Party officials shouldn’t decide the outcome, that’s up to voters — all voters. Political parties are not exclusive clubs in this country. Even Democrats have the right to play. Likewise if Republicans want to switch party affiliations, let them. Democrats wouldn’t mind seeing their numbers increase, if only for the party’s morale.

I agree with Phoebe Stoner, executive director of the Equality State Policy Center, who told WyoFile reporter Andrew Graham that Friess’ email “contradicts the very spirit of Wyoming.”

“Citizens of Wyoming have the fundamental right to vote for who they believe to be the best candidate in the race of their choice,” Stoner said. “We should not be working to restrain them because some didn’t get the results they wanted.”

The failure of Trump to influence Wyoming’s election was not missed by Fox News, whose commentator Peter Roff wrote, “In picking Gordon, Wyoming voters opted for an insider who is completing his first full term in statewide office. He’ll face Democrat Mary Throne in November … but that’s almost an afterthought.”

Memo to Mr. Roff: Pundits wrote off Ed Herschler, Mike Sullivan and Dave Freudenthal because of the tremendous advantage registered Republicans always have over the opposition. Do you recognize any of those fellows? They were all Democratic Wyoming governors who won by handy margins.

With all apologies to Fox News and President Trump, who are apparently confident they know what’s best for Wyoming, let’s give voters in the state some credit. They have a long history of voting for men and women on the basis of far more than their party affiliation

I think Friess’ loss owes less to his endorsement and more to statements like this from the candidate: “God has blessed me with resources that I’m sure He would like to be put to use to further our Founding Father values and His values.”

Another memo to Mr. Friess: Believe it or not, some voters don’t like to be reminded how rich politicians are. And even the most religious persons among us might take offense at your suggestion that God and George Washington want you to guide Wyoming.

The last time I looked, neither of them were registered to vote here — either as Democrats or Republicans.

Ed Note: This column originally described Meyer and Micheli as both running to Mead’s right in the 2010 primary. Meyer, however ran more as a moderate. The text has been edited to remove that reference.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. One of your best columns yet, Mr. Drake, in a history of knock-em-out-of-the-park columns! This former Wyoming resident got quite a kick out of your take. At last, something to elicit a genuine laugh in these fraught times..

  2. Love your article. It boggles my mind to think that Friess really thinks that he should have won. Yes, I was afraid he might and I am so proud of our people for seeing through the sham. And yes, I remember all those great Democratic governors. And I, a Republican, voted for them. I agree it is really funny that Friess is so angry.

  3. Recall that an eternity ago back in 2017 we were faced with the apparition of Foster Friess’ portfolio and soldier of fortune Erik Prince facing off against John Barrasso for the Senate seat. Had that menage a trois come to pass , it would’ve been a Kerry Drake column for the ages regardless of turnout, ways and means to the end of the Primary slog. Even Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have conjured up that scenario as a stupendous fictional screenplay …

    I always cite my college professor John T. Hinckley on these matters. First hour of the first day of his ” Politics and Government of Wyoming ” class at Northwest College in 1970, Hinck’s first words that semester were scriptural, quote ” Anyone who thinks they can teach you a damn thing about politics and government in Wyoming is a damned fool… “

  4. Thanks Kerry. Strong competitor for well said article of the year. Haven’t had such a good chuckle for long time.

    Would only add that Rita did not run to the right of Matt – she was the only one in Republican primary to support ACA – great tough classy lady.

  5. Oh, those pesky and misguided R’s who made their voices heard and voted for Ed Herschler, Mike Sullivan, and Dave Freudenthal in past elections. This makes a great case for requiring partisan ballots in the general election, not just the primaries. The candidates who lost out to Mark Gordon are probably fine folk, but do not necessarily qualify to be the next governor of WY or any other state.