Taking a pause from my ongoing series about stealth conservatives and other extremists who litter the Vermont Republican Party’s ticket this year, to note that these people can’t be classed as the exception. They are the norm. It’s Phil Scott who’s the exception. The party he once knew and loved is no longer with us and it ain’t coming back.
For example, take the above photograph and focus on the four centermost figures. The fellow with the bright red bowtie is Samuel Douglass, stealth conservative candidate previously uncovered in this space as a guy who thinks Fox News isn’t conservative enough. The gent to his right is the Patron Saint of Plausibly Moderate Republicanism, Jim Douglas. Behind Douglas is VTGOP chair Paul Dame. To Douglas’ right is state Rep. Samantha Lefebvre, one of 2020’s successful crop of stealth candidates.
Oh, and she’s now the vice chair of the Vermont Republican Party.
Yeah, I missed the memo. The VTGOP website includes no information about party officials, presumably to avoid embarrassing any of them. But the original caption to this photo identified her as vice chair.
It’s another sad step toward the outer boundaries of political sensibility for the once-dominant party. Its top positions are held by extremists of various kinds, and its slate of candidates is lousy with election truthers, QAnon adherents, Covid deniers and hard-core Trumpers. And maybe the odd militia type. Not to mention the virulently anti-trans chair of the biggest city party in the state.
Ladies, gentlemen and others, this is your VTGOP. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
Lefebvre ran in 2020 as a Concerned Mom and proud rural Vermonter who earnestly wanted to make her state a better place. What she didn’t tell voters until they’d elected her (instead of the very capable Democrat Carl Demrow, who is now running against her, Godspeed) is that she held some truly extreme views.
She was appointed to the House Government Operations Committee, which oversees elections. You probably know where this is going. During a hearing with Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters, she asked a long, meandering question about an alleged incident of possible ballot fraud she heard from a caller on a radio talk show. Winters responded that no one had filed a complaint, which is what you do if you really want to uncover election irregularities instead of just yelling about them.
Eight days later, Lefebvre brought up the same anonymous allegation in another committee hearing. Winters again said the office would need specifics to conduct an investigation. Why, Lefebvre persisted, couldn’t the state just investigate on its own?
Yeah, investigate an anonymous second-hand story with no names or witnesses or any other information attached. Presumably using the little-known Precog Unit of the Secretary of State’s office.
So that’s the person who’s now second-in-command at the VTGOP.
In 2020, Lefebvre was one of a relatively small cohort of fringe candidates recruited by the Patron Saint of Vermont Conservative Nutbaggery, John Klar. A few of them won. This year, there are a lot more. Since I started identifying them, I get one or two tips about other such office-seekers. I suspect that they constitute a sizable majority of the party’s first-time candidates, maybe even of the entire slate. If enough of them get elected, they will significantly change the character of the Republican caucuses and degrade the quality of discourse in the Statehouse.
The party isn’t just standing idly by as these people campaign under its venerable banner. It’s actively soliciting support for them. Dame has begun a frequent series of email messages spotlighting the party’s new hopefuls. So far, that series has included two I’ve already written about, Sam Douglass and Jon Christiano, known extremists and multiple-time Washington County losers Dana Colson and Dexter LeFavour, and a few others I’ve got my eye on. Maryse Dunbar, who I’ve heard is ardently anti-abortion, Lynn Dike, previously seen holding a Christiano sign at a honk-and-wave, and Allison Duquette, who I’ve heard is a stealth conservative but I haven’t yet independently confirmed it. Also the as-yet known to me Eva Ryan, Nichole Loati, and Rob North.
Point being, the VTGOP has no problem actively supporting extremist candidates and asking others to do so as well.
Of course it has no problem. Because these people are the Vermont Republican Party. The “moderate” wing is shrinking rapidly to Phil Scott size. And while the governor may bemoan the frequent excesses of his fellows, he willingly carries the same banner and often appears in public events with them. He enables these people who cause him such performative dismay.
He knows what his party is. He has chosen not to make a clean break. He keeps on sitting in the same squalid manure pile, insisting he has nothing to do with the stench.