Christopher-Aaron Felker, spectacularly unsuccessful Burlington City Council candidate and chair of the burning wreck of the city Republican committee, caused quite the stir Monday on the Twitter machine. He tagged the “groomer” label on Democratic and Progressive lawmakers who’ve sponsored a bill to allow minors to seek gender-affirming treatment without parental consent.
There’s hardly a more despicable word you could use to tar a political opponent. You’re basically calling them pedophiles.
It’s beyond the pale. It ought to make Felker persona non grata in polite circles. And in the Republican Party as well.
But it won’t.
It won’t because, Phil Scott notwithstanding, This Is Your Vermont Republican Party. The governor isn’t merely an outlier in his own party; he’s the lone inhabitant on an island that’s slowly sinking under the waves.
Felker took it beyond the pale, but the illustration and the talking point came straight from the VTGOP. Its chair, Paul Dame, might be a bit more restrained than Felker, but he’s operating out of the same defamatory playbook, fearmongering a bill that’s already dead for the session.
So why should we expect the party to punish Felker over one simple additional word?
Hell, he’s practically in the mainstream of today’s Republican Party. That “groomer” tag came from Fox News, don’tcha know. It’s the bloody shirt of the week. That’s why Dame is fearmongering over a bill that was introduced on January 18 and hasn’t gone anywhere since. He didn’t speak out against the bill back then because it wasn’t a national conservative talking point back then. It is now, and Dame and Felker are just jumping on the ol’ hatewagon.
VTDigger’s Lola Duffort posted a story on this outbreak of artificially induced transgender panic. It included the usual distancing from Scott. “For years he has called out this kind of polarizing rhetoric that seeks only to divide and cause harm,” said gubernatorial spox Jason Maulucci in an email to Digger. “…there is no place for personal attacks and the stoking of fear.”
Well, actually, Jason, there is. It’s called the Republican Party. It lives on a diet of “personal attacks and the stoking of fear.”
Scott has “called out this kind of polarizing rhetoric,” sure, but when was the last time he did something about it? He ought to be the leader of the Vermont Republican Party. He ought to have the authority to do much more than calling out. If he can’t get on the horn and demand the removal of Felker, then he is choosing not to use his influence.
Of course, it’s possible that if he did get on the horn, he’d be ignored by party leadership. That’d be embarrassing, wouldn’t it?
But it’s probably true. The VTGOP hierarchy is riddled with far-right conservatives who openly spout conspiratorial views. Its donor base, as reported previously, is dominated by a small number of extremely conservative donors like Lenore Broughton. The kind of people who throw their money at the Jim Jordans and Lenore Boeberts of the world.
It’s a truism in #vtpoli circles that The Vermont Republican Party Is Different. It’s really not, not anymore. The party leaders who realized the necessity of seeking centrist votes are long gone. In their place we have people with no compunction at aping national conservative tactics, even at their most hateful.
Why is it that other Republican candidates who’ve wrapped themselves in the Phil Scott Cloak of Plausible Moderation, like Don Turner and Scott Milne, have been dismal failures? Because the VTGOP is so clearly in a different place. Scott has years of centrist credibility and, leave us not forget, he’s A Nice Guy. It works for him. For anyone else, it’s an ill-fitting costume.
The Vermont Republican Party ought to be better at this. It’s obvious that the balance of political power in Vermont is in the center-left, and the only chance Republicans have is to appeal to the center. Party functionaries who aren’t blinded by conservative media are well aware of this. But they just can’t help themselves. The difference between national Republicans and Vermont Republicans is, in fact, vanishingly small.