Yesterday, over at Green Mountain Daily, I wondered whether the Scott Milne campaign was a real thing or an Andy Kaufman-style work of performance art.
In the last week before Governor Shumlin takes center stage, Milne is spending the vast majority of his time not campaigning. At least not visibly. Yesterday, he sat in on ex-Governor Jim Douglas’ book launch thingy in Burlington, which got him no attention whatsoever; and then, a few hours later, he got five minutes of free airtime on WCAX’s “The :30.” And, as I reported earlier, this was one of his more active days in a week when he should have been taking full advantage of Shumlin’s absence from the fray.
Meanwhile, the other guy who has no chance of winning, Libertarian Dan Feliciano, was occupying the political spotlight with a clever maneuver straight out of Campaigning 101: Holding a news conference and delivering a simple, headline-friendly message. His reward: what must be the most widespread media coverage ever received by a Libertarian candidate for any office anywhere.
Libertarian candidate for governor Dan Feliciano says Vermont Health Connect should be scrapped and the state should adopt the federal health care exchange.
Government is standing in the way of health care reform, Feliciano said. He also called Wednesday for the repeal of the state’s health care reform plan (Act 48), the elimination of the Green Mountain Care Board and a return to an open marketplace for health insurance.
Feliciano said Gov. Peter Shumlin’s goal of creating a single payer health care model in Vermont is “fantasy.”
He’s wrong, of course. Switching to the federal exchange would result in much higher costs for a lot of Vermonters. He’s also kinda self-contradictory: he wants government out of the way of health care reform, but he wants us to go along with Obamacare. To be fair, it’s a fait accompli, but still: it’s a bit rich for him to call government an obstacle to reform while calling on Governor Shumlin to accept the federal system instead of pursuing a uniquely Vermont approach.
But my point here isn’t who’s right or wrong — it’s who won the day’s battle for attention. And Feliciano clearly kicked Scott Milne’s ass.
While Feliciano was delivering a clear message, Milne was rambly and waffly on Channel 3. When asked about single-payer health care and his own idea for reform, he made like an octopus and squirted a cloud of ink:
I think there’s people on the Governor’s extreme end of radical progressive legislative agenda, which believes uh without facts to back it up, without a plan for how we’re going to pay for it, uh without really a plan for how it’s going to work, believe that single payer’s going to solve all of our problems. I believe on the other extreme are people who don’t even want to consider it because it’s a government takeover of one part of the economy.
The primary plank upon which I’ll be running this campaign, and upon which I’ll be governing Vermont, ah is that we really need to be focused on what’s practical, uh not being driven by what’s a political ideology. So I think the, ah, Vermont Health Connect disaster is a great example of taking a political ideology from the top down, shoving it down the throats of Vermonters without really havin’ a plan in place. So, ah, our team is working hard to get a plan in place, ah, we’ll have very specific ideas for voters to talk about, think about, and hopefully use as one of many criteria for deciding to vote for Scott Milne for Governor in November.
Got that? Shumlin’s plan is extreme and radical, but not out of the question. Also, Milne doesn’t yet have a plan of his own.
According to his own absurd timetable, August was Phase One of the “unconventional” Milne candidacy, in which he would assail Shumlin’s record. Then, in September, he’d unveil his own agenda.
Hello? It’s September Fourth.
All that said, while Feliciano clearly won the battle for September Third, he still ain’t winning in November. However, if Milne keeps up this kind of stuff, Feliciano will be an effective spoiler — earning a double-digit share of the vote, and pushing Milne down into the 20s. The longer Milne goes on looking like a bumbler, or a performance artist, the more Republicans will abandon his cause and vote Feliciano out of disgust or desperation.
Which would be very damaging to Phil Scott’s party-broadening project. The Milne implosion is emboldening the True Believers to continue resisting Scott’s plan. It could even lead to a blood-on-the-floor battle for control of the party after the election. And, worst case, a permanent split in the already-small VTGOP, with conservatives either joining the Libertarians or deciding to opt out Vermont politics entirely.
And while the True Believers are a small group that cannot hope to win elections in Vermont, they are the most dedicated and supportive Republicans. Their absence from the VTGOP donor rolls has pushed its already-dire finances into virtual nothingness.
If the VTGOP had managed to find a credible candidate — say, Heidi Scheuermann, or Phil Scott himself — it would still lose this year, but it might be on the road to self-reinvention as an influential political force. Instead, they’re saddled with Scott Milne. And whatever enthusiasm exists among Republicans is there for Dan Feliciano’s taking.