Vermont Republicans gained significant ground in last week’s election. But when you get right down to it, they’ve still got a long, long way to go. They didn’t field serious candidates for most of the statewide offices; they made nice gains in the legislature, but remain on the short end of big Dem/Prog majorities. They made progress on the back-office stuff, but they remain heavily out-organized and out-fundraised by the Dems.
And whatever made Scott Milne a serious contender in spite of a deeply flawed campaign with virtually no resources, well, can you bottle it and spray it on the next guy? Nope. I don’t think anyone really knows why Milne made such a strong showing, and I doubt it’s replicable.
My point is, the Republicans still have serious work to do. The VTGOP is not yet a serious contender — not statewide, not in the legislature. And already, there are signs that this whiff of success is going to their heads.
The most obvious sign is their eager acceptance of Milne’s reasoning for continuing the campaign into the legislature. Or should I say “Milne’s reasonings,” since he has a number of them on offer.
There’s the “ideological majority” notion, that lumps all of Dan Feliciano’s votes in with Milne’s, plus (I guess) most of Emily Peyton’s and Cris Ericson’s and Peter Diamondstone’s to, somehow, get Milne to 50% plus 1.
There’s the “incumbent rejection” idea: since most voters rejected the incumbent, that means the second-place finisher really won. In spite of the fact that more voters rejected Milne than rejected Governor Shumlin.
Then there’s the “legislative district” argument, which says that Milne won more districts than Shumlin and therefore demonstrated broader support. Which is obvious nonsense because many of Milne’s wins came in districts heavy on real estate and light on population.
And finally, we have the “there really isn’t a precedent” argument, in which Milne cites the handful of counter-precedents he can find — all of them emitting a fishy odor. The problem is, there really is a precedent, a very solid one; and when it hasn’t been honored, things have gone haywire.
In football, they say if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. Well, Scott Milne has four arguments, but really has none. He’s throwing a whole bunch of stuff against the wall and hoping something sticks.
Among the people seeing through this are the two most popular Republicans in Vermont: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and former Gov. Jim Douglas. Both have said that if it comes to the legislature, the top vote-getter should be elected. Here’s Douglas on VPR:
“It would seem to me unlikely that that would be a useful strategy and perhaps he should consider what Doug Racine and others have done historically which is to acknowledge the result and come back and fight another day,” said Douglas.
In 2002, Racine lost to Douglas by about 5,800 votes but since neither candidate won a majority, the vote went to the Legislature. Racine told lawmakers to vote for Douglas because he was the top vote getter.
… “It would seem to me that the good will that he’s accrued during the last several days ought to be preserved,” said Douglas.
I can kinda understand why Milne is sowing seeds of doubt; he came incredibly close to winning, which, in a way, must be harder to accept than losing decisively. (Gollum!) What’s harder to accept is that top Republicans like Don Turner and Joe Benning are grabbing at this logical apparition. Do they not, in Jim Douglas’ words, risk losing “the good will that [has been] accrued”? I think they do.
As they also do with their immediate call for repeal of Vermont Health Connect in favor of the federal exchange. They offer this as a serious proposal, but as VTDigger’s Morgan True reports, they haven’t worked out any of the details. Like how we’d make good all the premium assistance the working poor and middle class receive thanks to Vermont having its own exchange. Turner’s got a kinda-sorta plan for that, but he clearly hasn’t thought it through.
So why pull a half-baked cake out of the oven? The obvious answer is, to try to capitalize on the election results. And because the hubris is strong in the VTGOP right now.
Turner goes so far as to insist that VHC might need repeal even if it’s up and running when the legislature reconvenes.
Hmm, yeah, kill something that’s finally working after all the investment of money, time, and toil? Don’t think so.
The Republicans would do well to consider the letter and the spirit of Jim Douglas’ advice. Don’t get over your skis. Don’t, in the words of Gov. Shumlin, get too far out in front of the troops.
In renewing the war against health care reform, and in promoting the idea that the legislature should elect the second-place candidate, the Republicans show early signs of turning into the balls-to-the-wall ideologues we all love to hate in the national GOP. By now they should know that’s a recipe for disaster in Vermont. And it’s the opposite of Phil Scott’s alleged vision for a broader, more inclusive party.
A little diplomacy, a little statesmanship, might seem like a step backward right now. But it’s the best thing for the longer-term prosperity of the Vermont Republican Party.