CODY — The Wyoming Republican Party on Saturday resoundingly re-elected Chairman Frank Eathorne to an additional term, solidifying populist conservatives’ hold on party leadership in the lead-up to what is expected to be a contentious 2022 primary season.
Eathorne, who was first elected to the position in 2017, ran unopposed and faced only a smattering of ‘nos’ in the voice vote for re-election during Saturday’s State Central Committee meeting. The committee adopted a motion to record the result as unanimous despite the miniscule opposition.
Sitting Vice Chairman Dave Holland and Secretary-elect Donna Rice also ran unopposed for their positions. Rice finished in fourth place in 2020’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
The vote comes on the heels of an increasingly public rift within the Wyoming Republican Party in which some former party leaders and elected officials have been critical of its direction. Party fundraising has also languished. Though Eathorne said fundraising performance has improved in recent months and the party’s balances are on par with other years, the GOP currently reports less than $58,000 in its in-state accounts and a little more than $32,000 in its federal accounts. Eathorne attributes those amounts to a shift in political fundraising operations and says the party is in good shape — especially compared to the past.
“In 2011, the Wyoming Republican Party was $50,000 in the hole. We were in debt. We had legal issues that were hamstringing our ability to raise money,” Eathorne said. “When I first became chairman in 2017, we had very low bank balances. Since that time… We have maintained per cycle the same balances on average that we have always maintained. That means we have steady support.”
Members of leadership also discounted the idea that the party isn’t united. In a speech, Holland said he believes the Wyoming GOP is an “accurate reflection” of the people of Wyoming, and while the media and the Democratic Party want to paint the party as divided, he said, all Republicans have a common enemy in the Biden administration.
Should populist Republicans take the reins of government in 2022, Holland said, it will be grassroots party members who will allow them to be successful.
“People are claiming the party back,” Holland said, “because we have only so much time to claim our country back.”
There was some acknowledgement of limited discontent within the party. In a question and answer period before the vote, leadership members were asked whether they supported the Frontier Republicans. The political action committee, which is comprised of a handful of Republican that want to increase civility in the state’s politics, has often been at odds with state party leadership.
The party election took place amid a national conversation about former President Donald Trump’s role as standard bearer and the fallout for opposition Republicans like Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
Cheney was ousted from her leadership role last week after refusing to back down on her stance that Trump incited the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection after losing a fair election.
The Wyoming Republican Party censured Cheney in February for voting to impeach Trump, and several activists within the party are now running to replace her. These include Sheridan County Republican Party Chairman Bryan Miller, who announced his intention to run during the meeting.
The party tension over Cheney was apparent during the meeting. While numerous elected officials, including Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso, addressed the crowd directly or in writing, Cheney did not.
“We don’t hate Liz Cheney,” Park County Republican Party Chairman Martin Kimmet said. “We love Liz Cheney. But we do have to voice our opinions if we don’t agree with her and we don’t agree with what she’s doing. I just want to make that clear to the press and to everyone seated here today. This is not a party of hatred. It is a party of accountability.”
In his address to the delegates gathered in Cody, Eathorne said the party will remain Trump’s party.
A CBS News/YouGov poll released over the weekend shows four in five Republicans agreed Cheney’s vote to impeach the former president was off-message and only served to divide the party. Roughly one-third of those who agreed were supportive of her removal as a message that “disloyalty will be punished,” according to the poll.
“When asked who is the leader of the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party, it is Donald J. Trump, and he continues to be our leader,” Eathorne said to applause. “We don’t worship the man, but he spoke for us in ways that we haven’t seen since President Reagan. And so we continue to recognize him as our substance leader.”