Cody, Wy. – The best Walter Clapp could tell, Lynnette bit Liz.
The 5-year-old, half-sister, spotted draft horses were feuding, at least judging by the abrasions on each other’s necks.
“Retaliation,” Clapp said, eyeing one of the scarred bitemarks.
Clapp, a 35-year-old candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, is still learning the ropes of horsemanship — he even took a course this summer to learn how to drive the team. He’d bought the setup — horses, buggy and all — from a “modern Amish” farmer in Toston, Montana. Factor in a new truck and camper to tow the team around, and it was a major investment: some $50,000, he said, plus much more buried in loans.
“Basically my life savings are right here,” Clapp said.
Clapp rendezvoused with WyoFile on a Saturday afternoon in August on the streets of Cody. His team was hot to trot. The mares clapped their horseshoes off the pavement as their new owner readied the team for an afternoon of campaigning in Park County.
A mustachioed, quirky, Texas-raised thirtysomething who’s never held office, Clapp recognizes that he’s an unknown candidate. But he’s also relentlessly positive about his prospects.
Clapp wanted to launch his presidential campaign with Liz and Lynnette from Park County’s namesake: Yellowstone National Park. He called ahead, but was denied. A prohibition of horses on park roads dates to a 1905 regulation, he learned.
“It was passed because horses were having issues with vehicles backfiring,” Clapp said.
The POTUS hopeful thought he could talk the park into an exception, due to the special circumstances of being on the campaign trail. The request, he was told, was to run up the flagpole all the way to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly. The answer came back the same: No.
Clapp, a practicing attorney and Red Lodge, Montana, resident, sued.
“The horses are a part of my speech the same way that a megaphone might be a part of another person’s speech,” Clapp said. “They’re a conduit through which to speak.” And while the Yellowstone backcountry is open to horses, it contains none of the park’s dozen designated First Amendment areas and is home to “unlimited” mosquitos, he noted in his 15-page lawsuit.
Yellowstone officials declined an interview for this story, citing park policy about active litigation.
But one longtime Wyoming attorney who spent a career litigating First Amendment issues is doubtful that there’s any merit to Clapp’s argument. Yellowstone officials can regulate the time, place and manner of speech, so long as they’re not regulating its content or viewpoint, according to Bruce Moats.
“They don’t care what his speech is, they’re just saying he can’t have a horse there,” Moats said.
Ahead of the legal spat’s outcome, Clapp shifted to plan B. Instead of riding the campaign trail through Yellowstone, he headed south through the Bighorn Basin to Thermopolis before turning west for Jackson. Along the way, near-disaster struck when his team spooked while he was caught on the tongue of his buggy, according to an Instagram post.
He took the most direct route to get back home to Red Lodge: through Yellowstone National Park. Liz and Lynnette were in tow, but he left them in the trailer.
“I decided that I didn’t want to get arrested in Yellowstone,” Clapp said. “I’m going to go to the National [Mall] in DC, and I’m going to perform my civil disobedience there, in a different national park.”
Next up on the Clapp campaign trail is the Iowa State Fair, he said.
In Teton County, Iowa or wherever he stumps, Clapp is sure to push his chief campaign issue: vastly increasing the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, swelling the assembly to roughly 11,000 representatives. That size, he said, would achieve George Washington’s vision of having no more than 30,000 people per member of the lower chamber.
Under this residents-to-representatives ratio, Wyoming would have 19 elected members of the U.S. House, instead of one. California, meanwhile, would have 1,308 elected House members, up from 52 today.
Pitching the idea of a larger House to one family ambling the sidewalk in Cody, Clapp was met with silence and then two words: “Thank you.”
“Have a great day,” he retorted.
A later exchange with another man went about the same.
Clapp’s horse-drawn carriage drew plenty of eyeballs. One person after the next stared or side-eyed the spectacle, as if they were thinking, “What is that?”
And one Cody resident was intrigued enough by what the horse-drawn politician was hawking to start a conversation.
“I do have to ask you, ‘Is that a poop emoji?’” Jennifer Elizabeth Melody asked Clapp.
It was, in fact, a pile of poo. The emoji was emblazoned on the campaign banner fixed to Clapp’s carriage. A couple of emojis to the left was a bullwhip. Together they told the tale of one Clapp campaign slogan: Bullwhipping the bullshit.
“I tell people, ‘You have eight times worse representation than the citizens of the United Kingdom,’” he said. “That’s bullshit, and that’s why I bullwhip the bullshit. And yes, I do have a bullwhip and yes, I can crack it.”
Melody accepted Clapp’s offer of a carriage ride.
Life on the campaign trail has been a sacrifice, said Clapp, who felt a calling and duty to run.
“I do not want to be here,” he said. “I had the perfect life, man. I was living the dream in Red Lodge.”
Clapp’s partner, Wyoming Public Media interim news director Kamila Kudelska, will have sacrifices to make, too.
“She’s completely walled off from making decisions with respect to covering anything presidential related,” Clapp said. “Not just me, but anyone.”
Why run for president? Some of Clapp’s family urged him to set his sights lower and run for a U.S. House seat instead, he said.
“I said, ‘If I run for Congress, I will be corrupted,” Clapp said.
Being president, he believes he could stay uncorrupted — partly by giving his power away.
Another issue Clapp’s campaigning on is a proposal to build an underground interstate system over the course of 150 years. The network of tunnels would house a reconfigured electric grid, a transportation system and more, he said.
Asked how much such infrastructure would cost, Clapp said that “money is made up.”
“It would cost as much as it needs to,” he said.
Initiating a presidential campaign is notoriously easy, and the Federal Elections Commission listed 1,037 candidates for the 2024 race as of Monday. Wyoming has at least one other resident who’s running: Teton County’s Casey Hardison, who’s aiming to revive the long-dead Democratic-Republican Party, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.
Yet, Clapp is taking his tilt for POTUS with current President Joe Biden, former president Trump and the rest of the field seriously. His filings with the FEC reports that he raised $2,050 through the end of June. Fundraising, he said, has since picked up, and he’s now closing in on $10,000 in donations.
Clapp’s goal is to earn a spot on the stage on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee for the first Republican debate of the 2024 presidential election cycle. To that end, Clapp’s seeking 40,000 individual contributions. With 10 days to go before the debate and a ton of ground to make up, on Monday morning Clapp was still optimistic he could hit the mark. He intends to drive Lynnette and Liz out East even if the Republican National Committee doesn’t admit him to the debate.
So far, he said, the committee has been unresponsive to his inquiries about what it takes to make the debate stage.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.