The Wyoming Republican Party’s recent convention in Gillette demonstrated that the radical right’s takeover of the GOP is now complete.

It wasn’t just that officials ramrodded through wholesale bylaw changes that punish county organizations and candidates who don’t follow the orders of the party’s central committee.

Or even that the party’s last-minute Senate-race straw poll — taken after many delegates walked out in disgust following the bylaws fiasco — selected a little-known, far-right candidate over a staunchly conservative, four-term Wyoming congresswoman.

For most of the four decades I’ve covered Wyoming politics, either incident would have been unthinkable at a Republican convention.

It was the party’s choice of keynote speaker that convinced me the Republicans’ “big tent” — which was once open to people with different views — is, in fact, closed to all except the far-right. The true-believers kick conservatives who don’t pass their litmus test to the curb. Moderates, meanwhile, aren’t even allowed to stand in line for admission to this circus.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the alt-right college student group Turning Point USA, gave a speech torching the GOP establishment for not being loyal enough to President Donald Trump.

That is a ludicrous notion to posit, after all but a lone Senate Republican voted against impeaching Trump. And after many GOP governors recklessly sacrificed people’s health by blindly caving into presidential pressure to rush businesses to re-open during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the 26-year-old Kirk and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden contend the 2020 election is about restoring “the soul of America.” The difference in their definitions of that couldn’t be starker, though.

In an Independence Day speech, Biden said, “We have a chance now to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated, the oppressed, a full share of the American dream. We have the chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.”

According to Kirk, the marginalized, demonized and oppressed in this nation are Republicans — even though the party controls the White House and U.S. Senate, conservatives hold a 5-4 Supreme Court majority and GOP governors outnumber Democrats 31-19.

Kirk threw the Wyoming crowd plenty of red meat while somehow managing to declare with a straight face, “We as conservatives haven’t engaged in the culture war for a long time.”

It was an outrageous claim, especially as he relentlessly railed about antifa, the activist media, Planned Parenthood, Marxist states, abortion, shutdowns due to the “Chinese virus” and the toppling of Confederate statues. He even derided lesbian poets for good measure.

For a supposed inspirational speaker, his tone was often one of gloom and doom. Kirk complained that the Republican establishment is against him, liberals on college campuses despise him and people regularly send him death threats.

Kirk addressed a Wyoming controversy that has the far-right livid. Without mentioning him by name, he blasted Republican Gov. Mark Gordon’s decision to veto a “born alive” bill. To wild applause, Kirk said, “It’s an absolute moral outrage that that bill was not signed into law in this state.”

Gordon has been widely criticized by far-right Republicans as not being a “real conservative” even after the governor’s landslide victory in 2018. That divide is apparently still alive in GOP circles, and Kirk pounced on it.

It must be maddening to be a Wyoming conservative today. Those who grew up watching politicians like former senators Alan Simpson, Cliff Hansen and Craig Thomas — statesmen who were willing to listen to Democratic ideas and forge alliances to pass good legislation — find few remnants of their former party in today’s crowd Under no circumstances should Republicans ever compromise with Democrats, Kirk said, “because every time we do, we lose.”

Wyoming’s modern GOP leadership has wholeheartedly embraced that political philosophy. By distributing 11 pages of new bylaws and passing them in one fell swoop — while silencing delegates who wanted some of the proposals considered separately — state party officials showed their intolerance for dissent.

Now, the party can withhold financial support for any Republican candidate who does not vote in line with at least 80% of its platform. The party has the authority to punish any state or county official who violates the bylaws. The state party also gave itself additional oversight over policy changes at the county level.

At the convention’s end, officials held a straw poll for the U.S. Senate primary. To avoid even the appearance of favoring any primary candidate, the state party typically does not conduct such polls. State law prohibits political parties from directly or indirectly spending any funds to promote one primary candidate over another.

Fewer than half of the delegates participated. Many who represented the state’s largest counties left before the poll, after the central committee changed the bylaws. On top of that, dozens of delegates didn’t attend due to COVOID-19 concerns — and virtual attendance wasn’t an option.

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All those factors made the straw poll results dubious at best, but it was still a shock when the party announced that Bryan Miller of Sheridan garnered nearly twice as many votes as Cynthia Lummis.

Miller clearly wants to portray Lummis as a D.C. insider and himself as a hard-line conservative who would better represent Wyoming’s values. He helped craft the state party’s far-right platform, which makes him the darling of the central committee.

But it’s laughable to suggest Lummis isn’t conservative, or that contributions or endorsements from anyone outside Wyoming proves she won’t work on behalf of the state. Lummis was one of the founders of the House’s Freedom Caucus, whose members are as hard-core conservative as they come. Republicans like Kirk should love her — I can’t think of a single time she’s criticized Trump.

I don’t think Kirk did Republicans any favors by stoking party leaders’ fears that Democrats are desperately trying to infiltrate the GOP. The central committee already acts like nearly half the party’s members are “RINOs” — Republicans In Name Only. They don’t need encouragement to look over their shoulders for new enemies, because they do a pretty good job of it on their own.

“The left destroys everything it touches. They’re like locusts. … And they’re coming for Wyoming, if they’re not already here,” Kirk warned. He topped his dire message by adding that unless Republicans fight on every single front, “You guys are probably six years from Wyoming becoming a blue state.”

The only way Wyoming is going to turn Democratic in a few election cycles is if the GOP alienates a lot of their members by saying they’re not conservative enough to be “real Republicans.” The maligned won’t join the blue team, but they could be dismayed enough to sit out a few elections until the current leadership loses control.

The central committee’s blatant power grab and keynote speaker choice represented a shot across the bow to convince members to toe the party line, or else.

I can’t see it working out in any way that benefits the GOP, but it may have to learn that lesson the hard way.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the Freedom Caucus. —Ed.

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. I have hesitated to post on this article for what may be obvious to those who pay attention to Wyoming politics. Before I get to my message, I want to emphasize that I fully agree with the GOP platform and have thought it the more optimistic party for a variety of reasons.

    However, I do want to say that I find this article really more accurate than not. It reflects what I see happening to my party, and what I see happening is disheartening. I don’t see room for discussion, and I see people quick to tune others out. That goes against my deepest and most pure beliefs. Freedom requires discussion, and that is mostly absent in the WYGOP now.

    The justification I have gotten is that it needs to purge the Democrats from our party. I agree there is no room for people who do not generally follow the beliefs of the party. Those who flaunt our beliefs as unnecessary have no place in it. However, that number is not as big as many would like to believe. Additionally, there are those who use their minds and listen to all of their constituents before making decisions. This is what they are supposed to do, not blindly follow rules from on high.

    I also argue the restrictions put on counties and on withholding delegates and funds is indeed authoritarian. The solution to the problem they wish to solve is not to force agreement or compliance but to open discussion. No one, that I know of, who is not as conservative as this wing of the party driving these changes, is opposed to sitting down and discussing their votes, opinions and goals. But by closing discussion they are forced out.

    That’s the boat I find myself in, trying to decipher my role in a party whose platform I agree with but whose tactics I abhor. While people have been patient and forgiving, not all have, either. I am afraid that observers who say the GOP is becoming authoritarian have a point.

    What scares me is that both sides of the aisle are drifting in that (power grabs) direction and out divide leaves no room for coming back together. My goal was for the GOP to at least reconcile within its own ranks. That did not happen at convention. Without that, what standing do we have to tell others that we can bring people together and work to stop the madness around us?

    That’s what its about. Its about moving forward and bringing people to live together peacefully. That is a conservative value deep in my heart, too, but we can’t get there in fear or without being able to talk.

  2. Here’s an idea from an organization that includes both left and right, red and blue, Braver Angels. Here are tips from Braver Angels Co-Founder, Bill Doherty. He’s a marriage and family counselor who has been applying techniques for healing broken relationships to our political division. His tips are:
    1.) Affirm your regard for the other person, including their good intentions
    2.) Express regret for coming across in a negative way
    3.) Admit that you don’t know everything about the topic and are willing to listen and learn
    4.) Suggest that the two of you drop this series of exchanges, and reboot your online relationship
    5.) Once you move to de-escalate, refrain from/do not continue with the thread that escalated. Change the topic; don’t get in a last dig.
    6) If none of this works, say you are taking a break for a time and look forward to being back in touch later

  3. I wonder what changed. The good old days of reaching across the aisle and compromise were destroyed as the far left grabbed the reigns of the Democratic party and yanked so hard the jack ass’s mouth is still bleeding. The moderate Democrats and Independents have been rushing away from that far left turn for years and, especially in Wyoming, they have hiding in plain sight. They’re right smack dab in the middle of the Republican Party. As the left pushed more and more the centrists gave more and more ground often selling their vote and their souls for considerably more than 30 pieces of silver. Usher in the American apologist and race baiter Barrack Obama. Conservatives everywhere decided enough was enough and Donald Trump became President. Moderates and Centrists that actually are more Democrat than they’ve ever been Republican were incensed. The Democrats and their left leaning counterparts aptly named RINOS have been on a mission ever since to completely alter the history and fabric of America. Some of these people even support President Trump, at least publicly, yet campaign for so called Republicans that are pro tax, pro choice, pro sanctuary city, anti voter ID and even anti Second Amendment. The conservatives in this country were instrumental in helping President Trump get elected in 2016 and have became stronger ever since. We aren’t going anywhere and the vast majority of those whining about it are those liberals and RINOS that were gleefully hiding in the Republican party and are now being exposed for what they truly are.

  4. As a life-long Wyoming Republican, I no longer feel like I fit in the “party”. I believe the art of politics is in negotiating. This is the arena of the moderates from both parties. And they are quickly becoming an endangered species as more move to the far right and left.
    It looks like a textbook example of how to destroy democracy and our country while everyone is convinced they are noble and right.
    Each day of our lives we must communicate and not always get our way to be successful. Governor Gordon has to navigate some difficult waters and is doing a great job.

  5. A party platform is a party’s promise to the voters that they can expect certain behaviors from elected officials who ran under the party’s banner. The Republican Party in WY has not traditionally done a good job of vetting those allowed to run under its banner. This is welcome change.

  6. Looks like Kerry is a little nervous about the Republican party.
    The radical left took over the Democrats, decades ago.

  7. Not that anything matters to the outside world if it happens within the Arkham Asylum that is the Wyoming Republican convention , until one of the inmates escapes and runs for office …

    I was born in Cody nearly 70 years ago and raised in a Republican conservative household in a town and county that was a Republican Party bastion of renown in the 1950’s and 60’s . Cody produced a couple three brandname Simpsons and a roll call of Wyoming lawmakers and statesmen whose names echo in the political concourses to this day. My uncle in Phoenix was a close friend of Barry Goldwater and I met the bespectacled conservative at an early age. Governor Milward and Lorna Simpson stopped by our family’s home every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas as they made the rounds of the entire town , probably regifting wheelbarrow loads of fruitcake and other baked goods on the replete winter pastures of our corner of Wyoming. Cody was also with hardcore conservative ministrations on its local airwaves… the John Birch Society practically owned the local AM radio station or at least paid to run it, continually flooding the town with loud dogma that would be the envy of Fox News today , but the mainstream middleground Republicans tempered all that without being loud about it or throwing punches.

    Yet we also had Democrats who were respected , engaged, electable, and served alongside their GOP counterparts selflessly. ” Compromise” was neither a dirty word nor its practicioners shunned like lepers. We got along. All things in moderation made sense. After all the roots of the words ‘politic’ and ‘polite’ had commonality; ” polished . to make smooth ” from the late Middle English vernacular. Commonwealth and commiunity were two sides of the same coin in the currency of the realm. No one needed to be reminded to ” be civil in the discourse ‘ any more than they needed to be reminded to breathe.

    Most importantly things got done. Those were the Good Old Days of being Republican in Wyoming. The era of Real Republicans. But now past tense.

    Fast forward to the present . Al Simpson is dang near 90 years old, but hale. He and his few surviving Grand Old Party peers are Living Fossils.

    Why do I no longer recognize the Wyoming Republican party when I see it ?

    1. You don’t recognize the Republican party today because it is the Democrat party of yesteryear and the Democrat party is full blown Communist now!

      1. Yeah, perhaps you could be right if you’re talking about the pre-Nixon, segregationist, Jim-Crow-South democratic party of yesteryear.

  8. I find this turn of events very disappointing and concerning. Being a moderate Democrat in Wyoming I know it’s a red state, however, it’s been somewhat tolerable because Wyoming hasn’t been extreme right. The vast number of my friends are Republican and I would describe most as moderate or traditional Republicans – and I’m OK with that. In no way to do I think Governor Gordan is NOT a “RINO”, but he’s what I would say is a traditional Republican and based on the last election (where the primary was the real election) that is what Wyoming wants. Remember that Trump did not win the Wyoming Presidential Primary and while most Republicans I’m sure voted form in the general election – he wasn’t their choice a couple months before.
    Just as I wouldn’t want to see the Democratic party swing way left, I would say the same about the Republican party go way right (especially not Alt Right). I’m not sure what it’s going to take for people to realize that we need to work together – at all levels of government. I think it’s selfish and short sided for anyone to say “we can never compromise”.
    In today world I truly believe most Americans are in the middle, but the far left and right are just yelling loader than anyone else.

    1. I hope this reasonable manner of conducting politics may return one day soon. I have always been given to HOPE. We need it now.

  9. Kirk is a joke. His organization, Turning Point, accomplishes virtually nothing towards its stated goal of recruiting college-age conservatives, yet it consistently attracts funding from conservative donors.
    It’s worth noting that Kirk’s initial donation came from Foster Friess. They make a perfect match.

  10. And then there is the left wing in America with cities on fire, statues and history being vandalized, murder and assault the new protest material. Not a day goes by without an officer being ambushed. They offer a solution to racism… “defund the police”. Governor of New York ships covid patients to nursing homes rather than new hospital built by the Corpse of Engineers. The nursing homes in the rest of America restrict families from seeing their loved ones and they die of loneliness. Hard ideology runs the media, left and right. The Democrat nominee for president appears to be senile or has dementia. The problems on the left are just as bad.

    Endless wars. The left grows the government at an extraordinary rate and the right does as well. Nobody reads “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau…”“that government is best which governs least”.

    We live in interesting times.

    Seems to me, Drake that ALL of America will need to go to the school of hard knocks for the hard lessons you speak of.

    “Learn, Baby, Learn!”

  11. I appreciate Mr. Drake’s concerns, but those civil, decent politicians he praises are from long ago. Hansen was from the 1960s for heaven’s sake — when Wyoming had a majority Democrats among its national political figures; McGee, and Roncalio, for instance. The politics of that time was not only less ideal than he suggests, but it is also long dead.

    Politics is a bit like weighing something in a set of pan scales. It is a process of trying to find a compromise in each public issue considered; and just as one cannot balance the scales by piling more weight at the fulcrum, it is difficult to find political balance with compromise near the middle. So, as one political party moves or drifts further left, it provides opportunity for more weight to be added to the party on the right. At least in the short term. When the national Democratic party evolved during the 1960s and 1970s to become a party of urban constituents, it stranded Wyoming Democrats and paved the way for a solid Republican Wyoming.

    Drake’s column paints an unattractive GOP convention, but if this is a mistake the voters should provide the needed feedback. Whether they can or not depends on having a reasonable choice.

  12. Who is running this right wing outfit, some one must be leading the charge but I see no individual’s name?

    1. Foster Friess funded Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA. Plus the Koch brothers are funding much of the far right policies such as no regulations for the EPA

  13. This has been on my mind, but to see it voiced openly is actually terrifying. No room for discussion or compromise sounds like the death of democracy.