Joe MacGuire doesn’t have much expectation those behind WyoRINO.com will show up at next week’s Natrona County Republican Party debate even though they are the guests of honor.
The Natrona County GOP has invited the owner of the anonymous conservative political ranking website to a debate Thursday with Rod Miller, a Wyoming political observer. While Miller is a regular columnist for Cowboy State Daily, CSD is not affiliated with the Natrona County GOP or with the debate.
Miller also doesn’t expect anyone representing WyoRINO.com to show up, but hopes they do, and said it would compare to revealing the identity of a masked singer.
“Either way, even if they don’t show up they’ll get their asses roasted as cowards,” Miller said.
WyoRINO.com has been around since at least late 2019 and is based on the label “Republican in name only,” a pejorative used to describe some Republicans that others believe don’t effectively follow the party’s platform. More specifically, the website says it exists “to expose liberal Wyoming Republicans who violate our Wyoming Republican values.”
The Natrona County Republican Party is hosting the debate “to highlight the absurdity and have fun at the expense of a website that anonymously rates and labels Wyoming legislators who hold differing views.”
The identity of whoever runs the website has never been revealed, a point MacGuire described as “the height of cowardice” in an August press release.
“Where it does matter is in the realm of political courage,” Miller said.
MacGuire also believes the owner of the website is breaking state law by not reporting its activities as “electioneering.”
Under state law, all money spent in relation to campaign efforts must be reported with the Secretary of State’s office. MacGuire said WyoRINO has put up billboards around Cheyenne in the past.
“Whether all the money is coming from D.C. or Midwest, Wyoming, it’s important the public knows where the information is coming from,” MacGuire said. “It’s important for the people of Wyoming to know, is WyoRINO funded by some outside George Soros-like group?”
Getting The Word Out
MacGuire said his party sent messages to the website, every county Republican Party in the state and the state GOP informing them of the event and inviting whoever is behind the website to show up at the event. He said he hasn’t received any response, an indication WyoRINO will continue to remain anonymous.
“We’ve done all we can do at this point to get them to show up,” he said.
If they do show up, they’ll get to explain to the public why they’ve remained anonymous for so long and debate Miller about the merits of the website.
The website has gained considerable favor in populist conservative circles around the state in recent years and its data has been referred to during various political debates such as a candidate forum held in Park County in 2022.
Miller said to some extent it hardly matters who runs the website, as he believes it only caters to a very narrow audience and isn’t swaying anyone’s votes.
“It’s part of the dignity battalions of the Freedom Caucus force that is a very narrow wedge of politics in Wyoming,” Miller said. “Outside that narrow wedge of right-wing politics in Wyoming, no one pays attention to them.”
Several legislators who have been targeted by the site also will attend and speak at the event next week, but MacGuire wouldn’t say who they will be.
“I’d hate to subject them to a week of attacks and have those individuals pounded on social media and targeted,” he said. “There are people who can be pretty ruthless.”
What Do They Do?
WyoRINO.com ranks Wyoming’s Republican state lawmakers based on their votes on 10 selected bills from each legislative session. Those who don’t vote in line with what the owner considers the party’s platform are given a failing grade for that vote. Those who receive a score lower than 70% on the 10 bills are considered a “RINO.”
Aside from the anonymous identity of the website, one of the other main criticisms made about WyoRINO is the small sample of bills it uses to determine its scoring. During the legislative session, hundreds of votes are taken on hundreds of bills.
The website also features a “RINO of the month” where more detail and explanation is given on a legislator’s votes from the personal perspective of the writer. This month’s honoree is state Rep. Ryan Berger, R-Evanston. Some of the previously featured lawmakers include Gov. Mark Gordon, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and MacGuire himself when he was a state legislator.
Even though the website ranks lawmakers based on their votes during the legislative session, the writer focuses entirely on Berger’s votes from the current interim session, which is limited to draft committee bills many months away from being considered by the Legislature as a whole.
Still A Good Time
MacGuire said Thursday’s event at the Ramkota Hotel will still be enjoyable even if the owner of the website doesn’t show up.
“We need to stop being so angry and need to be happy for what we have,” he said.
It also serves as a fundraising function for the Natrona County GOP. The Natrona GOP has been at odds with the leadership of the Wyoming Republican Party in recent years, the majority of which is made up by the populist wing of the Republican Party that generally supports the conclusions that WyoRINO and other similar conservative ranking websites come to.
The Natrona GOP owes more than $39,000 in dues to thestate GOP but has been refusing to pay the party over disagreements about the way it is run.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.