Even In Deep Red Wyoming, Some Republicans Want Someone Other Than Trump

Although former Wyoming Republican state legislators Ray Peterson and R.J. Kost don’t like President Biden, both say they aren't big fans of former President Trump and hope another Republican wins the GOP nomination.

LW
Leo Wolfson

August 12, 20238 min read

Collage Maker 12 Aug 2023 01 35 PM 6005

Many would likely argue the state of American politics is in a less-than-ideal place. Include former Big Horn Basin Republican state lawmakers Ray Peterson and R.J. Kost among them.

With the 2024 presidential election season close to hitting full speed, the political status quo appears set for Round 2 with President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump the frontrunners in what increasingly appears will be a rematch of the 2020 race.

For many Wyoming Republicans, the politically reddest state in the union in 2020, that’s likely a rallying cry to continue their support of Trump for a second term. Others, however, aren’t as firmly behind the former president as they were for previous elections.

Peterson, a former GOP state senator from Cowley, said although he’ll probably end up voting for Trump and unquestionably prefers him over Biden, he said he’s bothered by a number of flaws about the former president.

“I’m a Trump fan for his work, not a Trump fan for his behavior,” Peterson told Cowboy State Daily. 

New Political Order

The split between the more moderate and conservative wings of the Wyoming Republican Party has become so apparent that the level of infighting between Republicans usually exceeds the lobs thrown between Republicans and Democrats in the Cowboy State.

Kost and Peterson believe every faction points fingers at the others without working to find a common good.

“You’re either doing it my way or no way,” Kost said.

Whether it’s politics, a cellphone tower, a church steeple or climate change, Kost believes Wyoming culture has started to develop a hard edge where people have to be extremely careful of expressing their opinions out of fear of retaliation. 

“We’ve got to talk about things without it getting hostile,” he said.

Presidential Qualities

Peterson supports any Republican to oust Biden from the White House and expects Trump to win Wyoming again. He also said that there are many Republicans like him who would support another strong GOP candidate over Trump if one were to emerge.

He said if Trump would focus more on his policies and less on making controversial statements on social media, he’d garner more favor. Although Peterson supports those policies, he said Trump shouldn’t have questioned the results of the 2020 election as he did. 

“There’s a time to go away, just go away gentlemanly like,” Peterson said, adding that a high standard of behavior should be expected from the president. 

“The one chance we have for an outsider to prove himself and instead, we get caught up in a ‘he-said-she-said’ game of crap,” Peterson said. “Since when did government elected officials deem themselves as entertainers rather than public servants? I don't want them to entertain me, I want them to serve me in a respectful manner.”

But he also acknowledges Trump’s off-the-cut behavior is what makes him so popular among his Make America Great Again core supporters.

Other Choices Remain

Kost shares similar views and said he would prefer a different Republican like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earn the party’s nomination for president. He doesn’t want to see a Biden v. Trump rematch for the 2024 election.

“I don’t want to see Trump in there,” said Kost. “I can’t believe that in our federal government we can’t have some better representatives. There’s got to be some better people out there.”

Peterson admires former Vice President and presidential candidate Mike Pence, but believes him to be part of the Washington, D.C., “machine” and among the “insiders” Trump has adamantly spoken against.

“Washington is broke and I think Trump could be the solution, but what an uphill battle he fights,” Peterson said.

Kost believes there’s legitimacy to some of the criticisms and criminal charges levied against the former president and was disturbed when he had a conversation with an ardent Trump supporter who waved away those types of concerns, saying, “Aww heck, we’ve all done illegal things.”

Extremism

Peterson worries that extremism is pervading American politics and casting undeserved influence into the decisions being made.

“Extremists in both parties are the loudest and are taking over,” he said. 

Numerous studies have shown political party loyalty has grown in recent decades, and a greater proportion of the American public is drifting away from the political center to the left and right.

Peterson drew a comparison between modern extremism and the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. Although this political party started with traditional roots, it quickly became something much different.

Loudest Voices Heard?

Kost said individual perception can provide a woefully limited perspective and a skewed reality. He enjoys learning about differing opinions but finds some in the public too oppositional to be able to accomplish that goal.

Peterson brought up the example of Pence getting a water balloon thrown at him while walking in a recent parade as a testament to the state of current political discourse. 

“You don’t treat elected representatives that way,” Peterson said.

Kost believes Trump’s 2016 campaign started the trend of heightened vitriol in political speech in America.

“It got ugly quickly,” he said.

Kost was voted out of office in 2022 and Peterson lost his seat in 2018. Both ran for state Senate in 2022 against Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, a staunchly conservative politician who won the race.

Peterson believes Laursen represents extreme voices in the Republican Party for his characterization of the Wyoming Legislature as a swamp that needs to be drained.

“They want to see people hanging from lampposts and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Peterson said. “Wyoming? We’re a pretty conservative state.”

Kost said the current political climate doesn’t encourage people to speak out against candidates they don’t support. 

“You get lambasted so bad that mostly people say they don’t anything to do with it, but that reaction actually bolsters the other side’s position to the point where they appear to be in much more power than what they really are,” he said. “The old saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease is really true.” 

It’s a sentiment Kost said he became all too familiar with while serving in the Legislature, occasionally receiving thinly veiled death threats. He has no plans to run for political office again.

Experience Matters

Peterson is pessimistic about the chance he’ll ever run for office again because of what he’s faced on the campaign trail. A veteran senator, he was in line to be Senate president and even had higher aspirations for governor or U.S. Congress.

“I tried to be honest and be a good representative and people just squashed it,” he said. “The fire has been squashed.”

Peterson, who served in the Legislature from 2005 to 2018 and as chair of the Appropriations Committee, believes he was cast as an “insider” when he was voted out of office in 2018. He has concerns that experience is now looked at as a negative in modern politics.

“The people that made efforts, made waves, asked questions, that didn’t quite agree with you — they were out,” Peterson said. “You did away with them without ever looking at the fact they did some great things.”

Election Changes

Kost wants to see a higher turnout in elections and those who vote to do more research on who they are electing.

In the 2020 presidential election, 61.8% of eligible Wyoming voters cast a vote, slightly higher than the national average and 29th highest in the country. He said by not voting, it gives undeserved power to somebody else's vote. 

“You’ve got to be informed and you got to vote,” Kost said. “If you don’t like what’s going on and you don’t like the choices that you have, then you’ve got to do something about it.”

Kost also supports measures such as removing political party affiliation on ballots and switching to a proportional electoral college vote he believes will lead to a more informed voting pool and motivate people to vote more.  

He also believes less political party loyalty would help with voter intelligence and bring more voices to the room.

“Is it about a party or the person who can do the best for the United States?” Kost said. “Who can lead us and do a good job of representing all people and not just representing what they want to represent?”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter