Susan Stubson: How Did the Party of Ideas Ooze Into the Party of Vitriol?

Guest columnist Susan Stubson writes: "Exhibit A is the latest special session, a marriage of unskilled lawmaking and political theater. This is a study of a party on the path toward irrelevance."

Susan Stubson

November 21, 20214 min read

Susan stubson headshot scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

I winced at the first post from a national news source. Grimaced at the second. The third time, I checked my pulse. “I’m saddened by the recent news that the Wyoming Republican Party voted to no longer recognize Liz Cheney as a Republican,” wrote one Republican strategist.

Me too. This past weekend the Wyoming GOP held its quarterly State Central Committee meeting, the outcome of which was a flurry of asinine resolutions best characterized as clubby playground tattling. The Central Committee’s actions also thrust my party into the national dialogue as the latest example of political party dysfunction.

Dissatisfied with the bark-no-bite of its previous censure of Cheney, the latest resolution was nudged over the hill with help of family members of Cheney’s primary opponent. 

Curious, given that Cheney voted with former President Trump 93% of the time, besting the most uber of conservatives, Rep.’s Jim Jordan, Elise Stefanik, Rep. Paul Gosar and Rep. Matt Gaetz. Which leads the level-headed to ask, if Cheney is not a Republican, who is?

In this screwy band of acolytes, the Cheney shove-off has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with her failure to pander to false prophet Trump. 

The Cheney resolution accompanied a head-spinning resolution in the state Legislature censuring two stalwart Republicans, Sen. Larry Hicks and Rep. Steve Harshman, while ignoring the hateful and obscene diatribes by committeeman Troy Bray.

The state GOP’s game plan seems to be conflict and distraction. I think they thrive on it. The cherry picking is at an all-time high. 

The resolutions — which have no practical effect — overlooked gross misconduct of its friendlies (Bray) and served up a ham-handed response to the productive (Hicks and Harshman). 

Bray is in, Hicks is out. It is a flourish of murky logic, the consequence of which is the squeezing out of effective lawmakers who have a strong track record of conservative policies.

One by one the state party picks off its faithful foot soldiers for considering too deeply or gazing too long at compromise. 

Ultimately the party is left with a smug few armed with misplaced righteousness, reflecting their own illogic in a house of mirrors. Exhibit A is the latest special session, a marriage of unskilled lawmaking and political theater. This is a study of a party on the path toward irrelevance.

Walk with me. First, a civics lesson. Political parties serve many purposes, chief among them coalescing a group of folks who share the same ideologies and policies. 

At caucus they collect in a room to debate and fine-tune principles upon which the party generally agrees. That used to be fun. An equally important role of the party is recruiting candidates and raising money to get them into office. Simple.

The Stubsons were a grateful product of that process. Yet, in the past five years the party has focused instead on winnowing its ranks into obscurity via purity tests, outing those public servants who do not tow the ever-changing party line (good luck figuring out what that is), fomenting phantom issues (i.e., election integrity) and suing one another. 

At a typical county party meeting, we spend more time discussing in-fighting, censures and never-ending litigation than we do discussing policies and identifying folks who can help us achieve our conservative agenda.

What about the next generation? According to an article in the Washington Post, the GOP has been losing young voters by double digits in elections since 2004 and warned of a “demographic apocalypse” for the Republican Party. 

Indeed, efforts to grow the next generation of Wyoming conservatives has been challenging. I should know. I have two of them in my household.

This summer I moderated a forum comprised mostly of conservatives ages 35 and under. We invited them to share their concerns for their future and for this state. We got an earful. The overwhelming sentiment was frustration with the party’s perceived incivility, insular thinking and bigotry. What conservative would want to be on that team?

How did the Party of Ideas ooze into the Party of Vitriol? My hope is that conservatives like me are allowed to tell the nation the other side of the story. We are conservatives, yes, but our guy lost. Fair and square. We are bound by the Constitution. We respect the Rule of Law. We honor the democratic process. Until then, I am a Republican at sea. Untethered to a state party which demonizes the thoughtful and celebrates the miscreant. A conservative without a party.

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Susan Stubson