It was probably inevitable that Kolby LaMarche would resign as chair of the Burlington Republicans. A bit less so that he left the GOP altogether. But here we are.
Whenever she’s asked about extreme elements in the party, VTGOP chair Deb Billado resorts to the “big tent’ analogy. The party, she says, is big enough to include all comers.
Nice theory, but it’s not working in practice. The kind of die-hard Trump supporters who still believe he was cheated out of the election are more than welcome in the party ranks and, what the heck, leadership. But people like LaMarche, who believe the GOP must abandon the Trump delusion, are made to feel so unwelcome that they eventually leave. And the party’s rightward tilt gets that much more pronounced.
If the VTGOP really believes in the “big tent,” then Billado and her colleagues would be pounding the phones, begging LaMarche to give them another chance. Somehow I doubt that’s the case. Because to the chair and her allies, including vice chair Deb Bucknam and national committee members Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield, fealty to Trump is a litmus test for good Republicans. Not to mention local party officials like Ron Lawrence of Essex, co-instigator of the CovidCruiser that went to Washington for Trump’s attempted insurrection on January 6. That’d be the same Lawrence who launched a petition drive to get Gov. Phil Scott to abandon his party affiliation.
Yes, the Phil Scott who is the one and only Republican success story in statewide elections. According to Lawrence and the 2200-odd signers, he’s the real problem in the VTGOP.
Did Billado rush to Scott’s defense? Uhh, no. She “declined comment” on the petition, claiming she hadn’t read the thing and wasn’t involved. No “big tent” references this time.
I’m not saying that LaMarche is a political superstar, but he was young in a party whose core demo is “65 To Dead.” And he’d willingly taken on a thankless job — trying to build back a party that had fallen to #3 in the pecking order. Are the Trumpers who chased him away really going to do better at convincing Burlingtonians to vote Republican? Nope.
Will the VTGOP be better positioned for success if they chase people like him — and the governor — out of the “big tent”? Not on your life. Vermont simply doesn’t have enough Trumpers, not even enough to squeak out a 2016-like win in a low-turnout year. If the Trump contingent is 35-40% of the national electorate, then it’s more like 25-30% in Vermont. It can win legislative seats in deep red districts, but it can’t win statewide. Or even come close.
Republican officeholders know this. I mean, Don Turner is a very conservative guy, but when he ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, he painted himself as a Phil Scott clone. It didn’t work, because his campaign was desperately underfunded and he got no support from the equally underfunded VTGOP. But Turner was smart enough to know that plausible moderation was his only shot at victory. Ditto 2020 candidate Scott Milne, who — lest we forget — hired LaMarche for his campaign team.
Problem is, if the True Believers account for 25-30% of statewide voters, they are almost certainly a majority of the VTGOP’s base. Which is why Billado and Bucknam and the rest are in the positions they’re in. The state committee chose them. In 2017, it chose Billado over Mike Donohue, a very experienced operative backed by the governor.
Since then, Scott has washed his hands of the VTGOP. He doesn’t need it, and he doesn’t want the headaches and hard work required to try to reshape the party in his image. And one result of that is the departure of Kolby LaMarche.