In Wyoming Governor’s Race, a Wealthy Conservative Donor Tries on a New Hat: Candidate
Posted August 21, 2018 4:10 p.m. EDT
Foster Friess, a wealthy investor and major funder of conservative candidates and causes, has been known to pick long shots. Sometimes he gets it right, as he did with Donald Trump in 2016, when most Republican donors were still sitting on their wallets. Other times it does not end so well, as with Rick Santorum’s failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Long shot is how almost anyone would have described Friess’ foray into running for office: a campaign for governor of Wyoming, his adopted home state, which is holding its primaries Tuesday. (He is one of six Republicans and four Democrats vying for the chance to succeed Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican who is term-limited.)
But there is good reason to believe that Friess’ campaign — aided by many of the politicians and groups he has donated to generously over the years — is now in a much-improved position to win the Republican nomination in his very Republican state, all but ensuring he would be elected governor in November.
The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote an op-ed endorsing Friess this month, focusing on Friess’ commitment to gun rights, his promise to expand Wyoming’s coal industry and, crucially, his loyalty to the president. “He will be a true partner to President Trump,” the younger Trump wrote, “and that’s why I’m asking all of my father’s supporters to vote on August 21st for a proven leader and friend, Foster Friess.”
On Tuesday morning, the president weighed in with his own endorsement. Friess “will be a fantastic governor!” he tweeted.
In Wyoming, the state Trump won by a larger margin than any other, that may prove meaningful. Santorum has campaigned with him. And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and the Tea Party Patriots, both beneficiaries of Friess’ largesse, have also lent their endorsements. In an email to Paul’s supporters in Wyoming, the senator wrote that “my friend,” Friess, “will fight hard to cut wasteful spending.”
It also doesn’t hurt that he has been spending a lot of his own money on advertising and get-out-the vote operations, helping raise his profile in a state where many know him only as a transplant who moved to Jackson, the state’s billionaires’ playground.
Friess, who is 78 and has faced criticism that he is using his out-of-state Beltway connections to effectively buy an election, spoke with The New York Times about his campaign and whether he is a good fit for this moment when Republican voters are rejecting anyone they perceive as too cozy with the “elite.”
The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Q: Hi, Mr. Friess. How are you?
A: No, let’s start on the right track here. Mr. Friess is my dad’s name. And I’m Foster.
Q: Foster it is. You’re a guy who’s had a long, accomplished career. By no means do you need to get into politics to prove anything. Why all of a sudden, at your age, did you think: “Hey, you know what? I want to be the next governor of Wyoming”?
A: It wasn’t I wanted to be the next governor of Wyoming. I just wanted to contribute to make Wyoming a wonderful place. We absolutely love this place, and now we have a half-billion-dollar deficit. And a lot of the elite here are treating my money, our money, the welders’ money, the carpenters’ money, nurses’ money, truck drivers’ money, as if it’s Monopoly money.
Almost all of my aunts and uncles lived to be over 100. So I’m ready to go.
Q: You mentioned “the elite.” Given your background and your success, don’t you worry people will say, “No, he’s one of the elite”?
A: I came from nothing. My mom dropped out of school in eighth grade to pick cotton and save the family farm. My dad had a high school education. And Lynn (Friess’ wife) and I came out of the Army with $800 cumulative leave pay.
My mom and brother and I would go into the basement and butcher a couple dozen chickens every few months, put them in the freezer. And then a few days later get a couple bushels of corn. Because my mom said we can’t afford any of that expensive store-bought food. So I’ve always been the little guy.
I really had a very special moment on the campaign trail where I went into a shop where there were eight welders. And they took a picture of me. And I had my white, white shirt on and next to me were the grimy, sooty guys who had been welding all day. And it just kind of clicked that these are the guys I’d want on my unofficial governor’s expense review board. Every time I see an expense I can impact, I’m going to ask myself, “What would my welder friends do?” Q: There’s been a lot of concern, and evidence lately, that Trump’s tariffs are hurting hardworking people. Does that worry you? Could you see yourself questioning the wisdom of those tariffs if they start to hurt working people?
A: I think on something so complicated as tariffs, there’s gonna be pluses and minuses. I think what his intent was to get us in a situation where we’re not taken advantage of by other countries because of the mismatches.
Whatever those inconsistencies are, as you go about correcting them, there’s gonna be some glitches. Look what happened when we got rid of the monopoly of AT&T to switch to cellphones. You and I are talking on cellphones. Had we not deregulated AT&T, would we not be doing that? Sure, we have to be sensitive. And I think he’s tried to accommodate that by giving subsidies in places. But bottom line, it’s the whole thrust of he’s going to renegotiate these deals.
Q: You’ve got the endorsement of Donald Trump Jr. How useful is it to have the Trump name behind you?
A: The Trump name out here is golden. In Wyoming, you cannot go anyplace without people asking, “Hey, are you a Trump backer?” I have 65-, 70-year-old widows — and just everybody loves Donald Trump. As you probably know we had the largest vote for him, 70 percent, in the election. (Trump carried the state in 2016 with 67 percent of the vote.)
He ended the war on coal. Secondly, he said we’re going to start saying “Merry Christmas” again. And Wyoming has a lot of people who are very enamored with the basic, fundamental underpinnings of our society and culture, which is the fact that Christian values are much of why our country is great.
Here in Wyoming we are so, so proud of a president who puts America first. Q: You mentioned that values, Christian values in particular, are important. Some people inside the Republican Party have criticized it for only talking to itself and said it needs to do a better job of being more inclusive. Do you think that’s fair?
A: I think that’s about as deep a pile of hogwash as you can run into. The Republican Party has got Marco Rubio and (Ted) Cruz from a Cuban background. We’ve got Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal from an Indian background. We’ve got Tim Scott; the blacks. So as I walk around the country, I see more and more people gravitating to the common-sense love that Donald Trump has for America. And they love America, too.
Q: You think Donald Trump is a lover, not a hater or a fighter?
A: Well, I think he hates evil. When people try to take people’s freedom of expression and freedom of their religious beliefs, I’m sure he hates that. But boy, there’s no question that he loves America.
Q: Do you think though that there’s any validity to the notion that some people in this country — black, brown, immigrant, gay, lesbian — may not feel welcome in Donald Trump’s America?
A: They may feel that. But then you should probably ask why. The unemployment for blacks is now the lowest it’s ever been.
In fact, when you think about it, it’s almost like we have the formation of a third party in that Donald Trump has stolen the entire base of the Democratic Party: the welders, the plumbers, the blacks, truck drivers. The people who make the country function. The Democratic Party now has got the socialists and the way far left and the elite like the guys at Facebook, Google, (Democratic megadonor George) Soros.