Fresh off a loss in his bid for lieutenant governor, outgoing Sen. Joe Benning wrote an essay on how the Vermont Republican Party can pull itself out of its far-right briar patch and be competitive again. You’d think that some Republicans’ ears would be open after an election where everything but Phil Scott went horribly awry for them.
But the VTGOP is not open to a change of course, judging by the swift, aggressive, and downright accusatory response to his essay. Not to mention the ugly, racist blast of id posted by “Farmer” John Klar at about the same time. You look at the leadership of the VTGOP and the ticket it put before voters, and you have to realize that there are a lot more Klars in this party than there are Bennings.
Benning decried his party’s “loudest voices” and their belief that January 6 was a harmless rally, their “vitriol and hatred,” and their adherence to “every Q-anon conspiracy imaginable.” He wrote that in order to be competitive, “the VTGOP course must remain center/right” to attract support from independents and centrists.
Benning’s essay was a thoughtful reflection on political reality in Vermont from a conservative Republican. It was posted on, well, two of those “loudest voices,” the Vermont Daily Chronicle and True North Reports. (Note: A somewhat different version of his piece has been posted on VTDigger, for those who’d rather not give those right-wing “news” operations even a single precious click.)
And oh boy, the comments. They came in bunches, and they were angry.
VDC posted the essay on Sunday. By Monday evening, there were 49 comments. That’s almost four times as many comments as any other recent posting on the site. TNR posted it Monday evening, and by the end of the night it had 20 comments. The vast majority were harshly dismissive of a man who’d served his party well in the Statehouse and took on the long-odds challenge of running for statewide office as a Republican.
Before we get to the commenters’ Greatest Hits, let’s take a stroll down the deep, dark recesses of John Klar’s lizard brain. In an essay called “The Gang’s All Here,” he just puts it right out there: People of color from elsewhere are tainting the soul of once-pristine Vermont, and the goddamn liberals are letting them get away with it.
He’s a bit too articulate to parrot Paul LePage’s line about “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty” who drive up to Maine, sell their drugs, and “half the time impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.” But Klar and LePage are cut from the same cloth, which looks a lot like a Klansman’s sheet.
Now, we do have a problem with out-of-state dealers of all colors plying their trade in Vermont. But Klar puts the entire opioid problem in the laps of the darker purveyors and calls for aggressive enforcement targeting people of color with strange license plates.
Oh, and he puts “people of color” in quotation marks, as if calling into question the very designation itself. It’s of a piece with his view that those people are destroying our state and the liberal politicians are doing nothing to stop it. In his own words, “the liberal barf machine that has spewed hate toward our police by falsely labeling them racists for arresting dangerous, out-of-state drug trafficking offenders, remains silent.”
Uh, John? Nobody calls police racist for arresting dangerous drug traffickers. We question them because of consistent data that shows racial bias in traffic stops and other interactions with people of color who aren’t doing a damn thing wrong except driving while Black.
Klar, of course, doesn’t believe all that data, presumably because white cops can do no wrong. He places the blame on “woke” lefty politicians and their compatriots in the liberal media and “liberal professors” and defunding the police and progressive criminal justice reform.
This essay ought to come with a trigger warning, it’s so full of hatred, fear, and racism. It reminds me, for those old enough to remember “A Clockwork Orange,” of the scene where Mr. Alexander rants and rages while Alex the gangbanger is forced to watch violent images.
That’s more than enough about “Farmer” John, but his worldview is echoed in all those comments posted on Benning’s essay.
The very first comment on VDC is from “CHenry,” who says the VTGOP “has no spine or cohones,” calls President Biden a “feckless senile old fool,” and urges Gov. Phil Scott to sit at Ron DeSantis’ feet and learn how to really govern. James “Vito” Lanese takes to all caps: “LET TRUMP BE TRUMP!”
Christopher Farina calls Benning a quisling. “CJ” raves about Social Emotional Learning, a globalist plot that involves “phycho data mining children” with the goal of achieving “the political and economical control of society.” The failed Republican House candidate Rebecca Pitre laments the fate of fellow loser Nichole Loati, who ran as a Republican-Libertarian but Pitre sees as “an extremely center Republican.”
Here’s Laura Stone bringing up, you guessed it, “Hunters laptop and the crimes of the Biden family.” Finally, a bit of misremembered history from Rich LaChapelle: “This guy lost out bigtime to Ponytail…who lost previously to a well-marketed newcomer to Vermont politics.”
“Ponytail” is David Zuckerman, the “well-marketed newcomer” is Molly Gray, and Zuckerman didn’t lose to her. You might recall he was losing to Phil Scott at the time.
And hey, here’s another spectacularly unsuccessful candidate, Barre City’s own Brian Judd: “You are not a Republican Benning, you are a RINO ! Vermont Republicans voted for Trump because he was and is a True Conservative unlike you Benning.” And finally, “Rohan” takes to all caps to say “VT GOP needs some TRUE PATRIOTS America first. Time to get these Rhinos out!!”
You might brush this off as standard Commenter claptrap of the kind that has led many a media organization to stop posting comments. But their views are pretty much in line with top party officials and a solid majority of the VTGOP’s legislative candidates.
This is, as I’ve written before, your Vermont Republican Party. And it’s getting worse. The base of the VTGOP believes wholeheartedly that the party failed because it wasn’t conservative enough. Benning must be thinking “Good riddance” as he returns to his law practice.