The following column was published on April 15, 2017.
In the face of a perpetually uncertain future, the primal impulse toward self-preservation often breaks down. An irrational fear of loss arises in its place, which inspires paradoxical and foolish acts of self-destruction. A fine case in point is the Vermont Republican Party.
With nearly empty coffers, a chronic dearth of worthy candidates, and embarrassingly little legislative influence, the state’s center-right apparatus possesses neither crouching tigers nor hidden dragons. As a result, various political stakeholders are fiercely protective of the only shred of relevance available to them, i.e. the number of elected Republicans in Montpelier. It is important to note that the left-appeasing voting records of said politicians do not appear to matter.
In other words, the “establishment right” has accepted the left’s decades-long, concerted transformation of rugged Vermont into a progressive stronghold as the natural political order. This is why many believe that only Republicans, who have a tenuous relationship with mainstream conservatism, can win statewide office.
In fact, Phil Scott emerged as the poster child of this school of thought following his six-year tenure in the largely ceremonial position as Lieutenant Governor, where he succeeded by becoming all things to all people.
As governor, however, Scott quickly found that he could not have his cake and eat it too. Forced to make an unambiguous decision regarding federal immigration enforcement, he surprised his supporters by choosing the far-left position of open defiance to the rule of law. By taking such a radical stance, Scott inadvertently laid bare the great fault line of the Republican enterprise in Vermont.
The illiberal ways in which the governor’s staff, and his proxies in the Legislature and beyond, responded to the backlash provide further testament to the rot that has set in the foundation of the establishment right.
In addition to silencing opposition, they have been denying the controversy by playing silly semantic games. For example, they frequently assert that the absence of the word “sanctuary,” in the recently enacted law establishing sanctuary jurisdiction in Vermont, magically nullifies its effect.
Vilifying law enforcement officials who object to the sanctuary state measures as “latent bigots,” Republican State Sen. Joe Benning (Caledonia County) wrote, “To those of you calling Phil Scott a RINO, undermining support for the only statewide Republican who has managed to consistently get elected is not exactly a brilliant strategy for growing party numbers” (Facebook; “Windsor County GOP Group;” Feb. 24). He recently added, “Helping to spread this ‘humor’ [is] only turning off moderate Republicans who are tired of watching this circular firing squad created by self-proclaimed ‘real’ Republicans” (Facebook; “Wendy Wilton Profile;” April 1).
In another instance of petulance, a Scott surrogate attacked Vermont Watchdog for exposing the soft intimidation tactics used by the Governor’s Chief of Staff to suppress this column’s criticism of sanctuary jurisdiction policies. He wrote, “Vermont Watchdog should be ashamed of its willingness to publish tabloid style pieces that belong in the National Enquirer. Apparently that’s just how low Watchdog has sunk” (VT Watchdog Facebook Page: Comments on “Governor’s office sought to silence critic of sanctuary-styled immigration policy;” March 21).
Scott’s brazen support of pro-sanctuary policies continues to outrage center-right voters, many of whom voice their displeasure on social media. It is not pragmatic to expect that flaring passions should always follow the rules of decorum in public discourse. Moreover, online groups provide meaningful community and catharsis to Vermonters who otherwise lack avenues for constructive action and reaction. This is especially true in regions with negligible Republican representation in Montpelier, such as Windsor and Windham Counties.
That said, it is crucial that we – who stand apart from the cowards in the establishment – reject dark and malicious rhetoric. The surge of biting remarks hurled at Scott only serves to paint us with the same brush of intolerance that has become the mark of both Scott’s circle and the modern left. So that our cause of social, political, and economic freedoms is never tainted with tyranny, we must necessarily refrain from indulging our base instincts.
Indeed, our independent right-of-center coalition cannot afford to recoil from dissenting views and diversity of convictions. To achieve credibility and political influence, we need to learn how to bend, not break, against conflict. Without growing firm, deep roots of ideological courage and tenacity, we will never amount to anything more than a powerless band of right-leaning rebels. And, without tempering our righteous indignation with humility, we will never have a fighting chance against the mighty Empire of the Left.
Meg Hansen is a syndicated columnist from Windsor, Vermont. The Vermont House Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm. All views expressed are those of the author alone.