Just in case you thought a new party chair meant significant change in the Vermont Republican Party… just in case you bought those media references to the “moderate” incoming chair… Here’s the first initiative birthed by said chair.
Now, that’s just about the loudest dog whistle ever blown.
“Let’s Go Brandon” is, of course, the juvenile chant adopted by rabid right-wingers as a stand-in for “Fuck Joe Biden.” (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here.)
The VTGOP can claim the barest hint of a fig leaf for this nonsense in that (1) Brandon is an actual town, and (2) it’s the hometown of new chair Paul Dame. But we know what’s going on here. We know why the first rally is not in Montpelier or Burlington or St. Albans or Rutland.
It’s in Brandon because Dame’s first instinct — and/or his only option — is to appeal to the base. (The party is selling a wide array of “Let’s Go Brandon” merchandise, too. Cashing in on far-right hatred is such a good look.)
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Here’s another thing that hasn’t changed under the new regime: Bad copy editing. For starters, the release quotes the new chair but doesn’t identify him by name. He’s simply “the new chair.” Then, in a catalogue of the many alleged sins of Joe Biden, there’s a reference to the “sipping container crisis.”
Shortage of juice boxes, I guess?
But those are mere quibbles. The real message is that the VTGOP may make token gestures toward the middle (ex-chair Deb Billado toned down her Trumpism in official communications), but its heart is still with its conspiratorialist base.
Not that Dame is a moderate in any sense. During his one term in the House, he was one of the most conservative voices in the building. He may be one of the conservatives who realize the need for the VTGOP to give lip service to centrism, but there’s no evidence he’s actually a moderate. Or that he has any particular insight into the only successful brand of Republicanism in Vermont: the Phil Scott variety.
Just look at the rest of the party’s newly elected officers. Billado is now Treasurer. Deb Ricker was re-elected as secretary, and first-term Rep. Samantha Lefebvre is vice chair.
Lefebvre’s far-right credentials were previously discussed in this space. During her first session, she espoused the conspiratorialist view of critical race theory, sowed doubt on Donald Trump’s 2020 defeat, and voted against a resolution condemning the January 6 insurrection.
So that’s the vice chair of the allegedly moderate-minded VTGOP.
In truth, there’s not a lot that Dame can do. The bulk of the party hierarchy is from the Trumpian base, as are the most loyal Republican voters. The only way the “moderates” could regain control is if Gov. Phil Scott rolled up his sleeves, got down in the muck and forcibly remade the party in his image even if it meant the creation of a splinter far-right party. And the governor has made it crystal clear that he has nothing to do with the party. He didn’t even bother to show up at Saturday’s organizational meeting. Probably had to walk the dog.
Even if Dame had the best of intentions, he’s left at the helm of a party that’s dominated by the far right, has too little money to hire even a single paid staffer, is only competitive in a minority of legislative races, and hasn’t produced a single politician capable of competing statewide other than Phil Scott.
It’d be a long-odds challenge for the best of leaders. With this Brandon event, Dame is already showing that he’s not up to the job.