By EMERSON LYNN
The normal course of business following a poor performance is a rethinking of the direction taken, or, if the failures are severe enough, a change in leadership.
It would seem obvious that the drubbing Vermont Republicans took in the general election would qualify as an event worthy of some serious introspection, and that includes a wholesale change in leadership.
Republicans lost 12 seats in the House and one in the Senate. The party does not have the numbers to sustain any veto from Gov. Phil Scott. Not even close. They need 50 votes, they have 43.
The generalization is that Vermont is not hospitable to Republicans, thus, they will remain in the minority for the foreseeable future. That is true if the party’s leadership remains aligned with President Trump. The message hammered home in November is that Trump is strongest card the Democrats have. Republicans who align themselves with Trump are at a severe disadvantage in Vermont.
The same can be said of the far right in general. There is no appetite for their message in Vermont. The more the party insists on ideological purity, the more likely it is that the party will remain in the minority.
The model for Republicans is not only with the current governor – Phil Scott, but those Republicans who have served in elected office for the last 40 years. Robert Stafford, James Jeffords, Richard Snelling, Jim Douglas and Phil Scott are the leading examples. Even if you dig down into the second tier offices, there are still no examples of Republicans in power who were uncompromising conservatives. Why would the current Republican Party leadership think there is any great appeal in Vermont for a Trump-like conservatism?
If that thinking is in place, then the leadership should step aside.
In fact, the party faithful should insist on the resignations if the leadership cannot show a willingness to change course and some energy to do so. The party’s future does not rest on finding candidates who will hue to the message, it rests on changing the message to one that is more centrist. Then, and only then, does the party have a chance of recruiting credible candidates.
It’s important that the effort be made. It’s never a good thing to have the opposition so weak that opposing thoughts have no chance to be heard. That need for dual voices is one of the reasons Vermonters often split their votes; they prefer a balance.
There is also a huge opportunity for the Republicans if they will seize it.
The political middle in Vermont is wide open. If the Democrats continue their push to the left, and there is little evidence they will do otherwise, then moderate Republicans have the opportunity to pull the party more toward the center. And that’s where the bulk of the state’s voters prefer to be.
Republican Party elders can look at Mr. Scott’s success and figure out that far right causes don’t play well here. That includes gun control. And abortion. And immigration. And most social issues.
What does play well is fiscal prudence, efficiency and leadership. What does play well is establishing a reputation for trying to get things done, and being civil, and inclusive.
None of these characteristics are on display in today’s presidency and there is no reason to believe the narrative will change anytime soon. In less than two years we will have another general election and it’s everyone’s guess that Mr. Trump will have tossed his hat in the ring for another term.
If the leadership of Vermont’s Republican Party doesn’t move away from Mr. Trump’s toxicity then there is no reason to believe its numbers will do anything other than decline.
That’s a choice the party and its faithful will need to make. And they need to make it now.
Emerson Lynn is co-publisher of The Essex Reporter and St. Albans Messenger, where this editorial first ran.