Alan Simpson has reappropriated “RINO” — a disparaging term deployed by Republicans to describe party members they deem insufficiently conservative. 

Simpson, a 91-year-old former U.S. Senator for Wyoming, flipped the “Republican-in-name-only” acronym back on those who use it. 

“I call them Republicans ignorantly needling others,” he said. 

Simpson’s proudly on the outs with the Wyoming Republican Party, which has embraced a far-right, Trump-influenced brand of politics that overtly discludes those they brand RINOs. 

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R). (Ruffin Prevost/WyoFile)

“They’re based upon fear, lack of trust, lack of any kind of comity and they think compromise is a dirty word,” Simpson said of the newer faction, which is fast gaining power in the Wyoming Legislature. “There’s no way to describe people like that in one word.” 

In the months leading up to the 2022 primary and general elections, Wyoming Republicans, both elected and not, used all types of terms to describe themselves and each other, from “true conservatives” to “traditional Republicans.” There are no agreed-upon standards for the terminology that best describes the old-school branch of the Wyoming GOP that’s traditionally held power in the Legislature or the newcomers, who’ve coalesced around constructs like the House Freedom Caucus

So WyoFile asked party members along the spectrum: What do you call yourself, and why? And what about them? 

In the nuance of political language in GOP-dominated Wyoming, seemingly small differences in word choice may signal wide gaps in policy approach such as how, and in some areas if, to fund state government, Medicaid expansion, LGBTQ+ rights, public health regulations and what should be taught in schools. But a synthesis of what eight politicians and politicos — four from each faction — said about their terminology preferences reveals that none believe in the wisdom of attempting to put blanket definitions on a multifaceted party. For now, most leading figures remain neutral, declining to explicitly label their legislative colleagues — though a few draw lines between “us and them.”   

Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale), who will lead the Wyoming House of Representatives as speaker in the Legislature’s 2023 general session, declined to play the name game, arguing it is for the good of governance. 

Albert Sommers (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“If we can avoid labels, then we cause less animosity on both sides and we have the ability to get more done,” Sommers said. “I think ultimately we can do more good for the state as a body if we can stay away from labeling each other.”

Leading up to his re-election, however, the incoming House speaker was less of a bridge-builder in tongue. Sommers referred to his challenger in the primary, La Barge oilman Mike Schmid, as part of a group that’s “extreme far right.” 

Schmid dished it, too, calling Sommers and his ilk in the GOP “part-time” conservatives and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Below Sommers in House hierarchy for the coming legislative session is Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett). He’s the incoming majority floor leader, a role that allows him to pick the order bills get heard on the House floor. Neiman, a Freedom Caucus member who’s in the good graces of the GOP’s central committee, described himself as a straight Republican — no more, no less — because he embraces the state party’s platform. 

Rep. Chip Neiman (R-Hulett) gathers with fellow members of the 66th Wyoming Legislature (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“I agree with what they stand for: I believe in accountability and responsibility and self-reliance,” he said. 

Neiman will have to work together with Sommers. He also refrained from labeling his competing cohort, suggesting instead that adherence to party-leadership-defined positions is a more useful yardstick.

“If they’re truly Republican and believe in what the Republican Party platform stands for,” he said, “then there’s not an issue.” 

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower), the incoming Senate president, also wanted to stick to straight talk. 

“I consider myself an actual Republican,” Driskill said. “If we’re going to put a term with it, I would call myself a Ronald Reagan Republican.”

Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) during the 2021 Wyoming Legislature. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle)

Driskill, who newer lawmakers perceive as a member of the establishment, is another sitting lawmaker who declined to define “the other end.” 

“I call myself a mainstream Republican, they call me a moderate Republican,” he said. “Part of the problem, I think, is we have a faction that’s trying to define what a Republican is.” 

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette), who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, said it’s a “tough deal” to fit dozens of lawmakers with a single label. That being said, he thinks it’s fair to describe his faction as “far right” — but it’s not his preferred term. 

Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“The terms that I use are the true conservatives and the insiders,” Bear said. “I’ve used, in a derogatory way, blue-blooded Republicans at times.” 

Lincoln County Republican Party Chair Marti Halverson has been thinking about terminologies for the GOP’s factions ever since she responded to a poll ahead of the primary election. 

“The very last question was, ‘Do you consider yourself a traditional Republican or a Trump Republican?’” Halverson said. “I thought, ‘OK, it’s a Cheney poll.’ That got me thinking.”

Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman Marti Halverson (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

A former state representative, Halverson prefers to use a pair of lesser-used terms. 

“One of them is a ‘national conservative,’ and the other is a ‘new conservative,’” she said. “These terms are meant to distinguish us [‘new’] from the go-along-to-get-along traditional Republicans that we’re trying to wrest the party away from.” 

Meantime, Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston), who’s on his way out of the Legislature, favors the phrase “Biden Republican” to describe the type of GOP lawmaker who’s had a grip on power in Cheyenne. 

Rep. Bob Wharff (R-Evanston) (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“To me, that’s more descriptive than RINO,” Wharff said. “RINO has been used to the point that it doesn’t mean anything. Everybody just automatically dismisses it if you call somebody a RINO, and I don’t like calling people names.” 

But Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander), himself a target of the RINO label, says he’s “old and gray-haired enough” that he doesn’t mind it. He even empathized with the name-callers. 

“If somebody does call you something, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it to be offensive,” Larsen said. “I think you have to have a little thick skin …They’re just having a philosophical conversation about where they think you are at.” 

Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

Larsen himself bowed out of the name-labeling game. He’s a Republican, and has been for “longer than you’ve been alive.” 

As for the others? 

“To publicly go out and scorn or label somebody,” Larsen said, “I don’t think it gains anything.”

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. Labels coming from the extreme of the Republican Party has divided not only the party but also Wyoming tradition of locals deciding the best person to represent the local community. Al Simpson provided leadership and elevated Wyoming’s reputation at the national level. Statesman is the label most applied because he diplomatically worked across party lines. Albert Sommers also listens to his community. That is representation and leadership. Wyoming has elected Democratic governors who were respected and worked through compromise for the people of the state. Purity tests don’t work in Wyoming, but independent, thoughtful voters are the decision-makers, not a small group of extreme right wing politicians. Wyoming will vote to keep Wyoming free and balanced. We know our brand.

  2. Funny how anyone that considers themselves a conservative (either so called Reagan republicans, or the new trump-fueled unhinged ones) actually supports republican politicians since federal deficits increased the most under reagan, and trump’s gigantic deficit was top 3 in our country’s history.

  3. Perhaps the legislators who are being labeled “RINOS” should embrace the label and form a new political party whose animal mascot is a rhinoceros – a formidable beast. Today’s national Republican party has gone rogue and is dividing and harming Wyoming. We need to reclaim our independent, “live and let live,” practical ethos.

  4. Dark and gray money pays for political extremism and a shallow media. What’s good for the state and the people has become totally irrelevant. Another unsolvable problem that just happens to benefit politicians and the media. Boomers should be proud. P.S. Q-cumbers comes to mind

  5. I’m really a Democrat, but registered as a Republican so that my vote counts for something. I guess I am a true RINO if you want to add a label. I do what I can to encourage civility with my vote.

  6. Oh my. I need to look into our legislature more. From this article I see that the northeast corner is running the state. Not saying they are not good people for the job just wondering how this happened. Maybe the NE is the best (toughest, smartest) part. ??

  7. Bob Warff has been replaced by a more dedicated legislator . Mr. Warff failed to support the voters of Uinta, County. We were dedicated to elect his replacement.

  8. Republican, democrat, what ever the legislatures want to call themselves. The question is, are they working for the people in Wyoming???? A good, honest legislature would fight tooth and nail to get bills passed that support the people in this state, affordable health care, affordable housing ,and like your Jesus would do, back in his day, he was not judgemental against people who were different, stop the prejudice against LGBT , racial, religious, the Jewish people, women’s rights. This is working for the people. The 18th century is gone, so start living in the 20th century, times are a changing,
    and so do you, especially if you are in the office making life changing decisions for other people. I am a registered Republican, retired nurse for over fifty years, and 74 years old. Come on legislatures get with the times.

  9. I’m a democrat, but it disturbs me to see all the infighting in the Republican party. The rigidity of the present state party is more like a dictatorship than one that can contribute to a society of individual freedoms. Their actions and platform remind me of the old witch hunts of a couple centuries ago. It is certainly not a welcoming group for women. It is not so much a matter of conscience as it is a matter of wanting control of women. I can remember my grandmas telling me what it was like to be the property of men. While they experienced it just briefly, their mothers were firmly under the thumbs of their fathers and husbands.

  10. I find the name-calling and labeling to be childish and non-productive. Making definitions of philosophy by dropping a name into a “bucket” is very weak. Why have this conversation at all? I can’t keep all the acronyms straight and don’t intend to try. Hard to say what others call me, and I probably don’t need to know!