Phil Scott? Untouchable. Every other Republican? Radioactive.
That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know about the 2022 election in Vermont. Scott cruised to victory; the rest of the VTGOP, which followed a Trumpier path, got absolutely steamrolled.
And they leave Scott in a significantly weakened position for the next two years. Barring any late turnarounds, the Dem/Prog caucus in the Senate will stay at 23 out of 30. But the House, oh my God. It’s looking like a net 11-seat pickup for the Dem/Prog caucus, which means they will have more breathing room than they’ve ever had for veto overrides.
As it looks now, the House Republican caucus will be reduced to a paltry 38 seats. Yikes.
It’s absolutely clear why this happened. The voters rejected far-right candidates almost across the board. The vast majority of my “stealth Republicans” lost their races, usually by big margins. The only bright spot for the VTGOP was Franklin County, which also happens to have the sanest of the county committees. Republicans took all but one Franklin County seat in the House and Senate. That’s two of the seven Republican senators and seven of the 38 House Republicans, all from Franklin County alone.
The party’s state leadership is to blame. They followed this path. They recruited a bunch of unelectable candidates. They turned their backs on Phil Scott. They should collectively resign in shame, but they probably won’t. They’re too deep up their own asses to realize that everything they did was wrong.
On the statewide ballot, ticket-splitting reached ridiculous levels. Scott took 71% of the vote; the next closest Republican was reasonable conservative Joe Benning, who got 43% in the race for lieutenant governor. As for the nutbags who cluttered up the rest of the statewide ticket, none finished with more than 35% of the vote.
To put it another way, 18% the people who voted for Phil Scott couldn’t bring themselves to support any other statewide Republican. And if you remove Benning from the equation, more than half of Scott’s voters didn’t support a single statewide Republican. The state-level ceiling for Generic Far-Right Ideologue is a solid 35%. That was the total for Mike Taglivia, H. Brooke Paige, Rick Morton, and H. Brooke Paige.
I’m not saying that any Republican who tried to imitate Scott would win. Far from it. But he does point in a competitive direction. Current party leadership doesn’t.
This is in spite of the fact that the far right was well-organized and adequately funded. The Internet makes it much easier for fringe believers to communicate and coordinate. They’ve set up a bunch of statewide organizations to promote their issues and give some sense of direction to the movement. The right also benefited from a pretty strong network of highly politicized Evangelical churches. And it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.
If Scott were of a mind to do it, which he isn’t, he’d get his political team together with the business leaders who used to be reliable Republican donors and figure out how to regain control of the party. If he doesn’t have the stomach for it, which he doesn’t, he could task some people from his inner circle (and Franklin County) to clean out the Augean stable that is the Vermont Republican Party. Otherwise, the purification trend will continue and the VTGOP will become increasingly irrelevant.
This isn’t just a thing that happened in atheistic socialistic pronoun-happy Drag Queen Story Hour Vermont, either. It was a bad night for Trump-style ideologues across the country. The Republican Party has gone too far. It can only hope to win by gaming the system through gerrymandering, the innate Republican lean of the U.S. Senate and Electoral College, and scorched-earth tactics in all branches of government.
The Vermont Republicans can’t even hope to do any of that. They have no path forward. Still, I’ll be surprised if they have the vision to realize this and chart a more productive course.