You have to feel a little bit sorry for Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. She’s been working hard for three years now, trying to build a functioning machine out of spare parts and duct tape. But her Trumpian worldview makes her an ineffective advocate for the kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate organization the VTGOP needs to be.
Now it’s all coming apart, thanks to the January 6 insurrection triggered by President Trump. While Republican Gov. Phil Scott came right out with a call for Trump’s removal from office, Billado issued a statement condemning the violence without mentioning the President at all.
On Tuesday, Billado issued another statement, this one urging people not to take part in a January 17 Statehouse rally in support of Trump. She began, oddly, with this:
It has come to my attention through various vague media reports that there is a rumor of some kind of protest planned at the capitol building in Montpelier this weekend.
The Vermont Republican Party is a dysfunctional mess. For pretty much as long as I’ve been writing about #vtpoli — 10th anniversary coming up this year — the party has struggled in fundraising, organizing, candidate recruitment, and choosing an ideological lane. There’s been tension between its elected officials, who recognize that they have to appeal to the center in order to win, and the party faithful, who are profoundly conservative.
During the Trump years, that split has gotten wider. Gov. Phil Scott has essentially divorced himself from the party since November 2017, when he backed Mike “Not The Reporter” Donohue for party chair, only to see incumbent Deb Billado narrowly re-elected by the state committee. (Donohue is pretty conservative but he’s a realist, not a fanatic.) The party hierarchy is now full of Trump true believers, including Billado, vice chair Deb Bucknam (last seen filing a nutty lawsuit over Gov. Scott’s Covid-19 policies), and the two national committee members, Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield.
Well, now the VTGOP’s split is going public. Rep. Scott Beck of St. Johnsbury is calling for the resignation of party officials who refuse to advocate for Trump’s removal from office, and he’s gathering support among Republican electeds.
“I have had some pointed comments at VTGOP leadership, and I have said to them, ‘If you cannot cross these bridges, I think it’s time for you to move on,’” Beck told Seven Days on Tuesday.
Sen. Corey Parent and Rep. Anne Donahue have joined the call for Billado to resign, after she issued a mealy-mouthed condemnation of the January 6 Capitol riot that didn’t mention Trump at all.
Beck et al. are clearly right about this; the current VTGOP is doomed to permanent minority status. But if they’re serious, it’s going to be a long, hard struggle. Things would get a lot worse before they start getting better, and “getting better” is not a sure bet. Because if they succeed in dislodging the hard-core Trumpers, there will hardly be anything left.
Well, the incoming leaders of the House and Senate are pouring buckets of cold water on any hopes of a progressive agenda in the next two years.
In some ways, this makes perfect sense. In others, it’s a continuation of the squishy-soft stylings of the outgoing leadership. And that’s disappointing for anyone who was looking forward to the possibility of change.
My former colleagues Xander Landen and Kit Norton have posted a legislative preview, and it’s chock full of Business As Usual — the kind of Democratic strategerizing that’s helped Phil Scott remain governor. Or, shall we say, done little to nothing to draw a clear contrast between Scott and the Dems.
Now, these are extraordinary times. And I have no quarrel with the idea that coronavirus will be first and foremost on the agenda until we’ve vaccinated our way back to normality. The budget alone could occupy the available time between now and adjournment.
So yeah, when Speaker-In-Waiting Jill Krowinski says her top priority is “to bring people together and create a plan of action to beat the virus and it needs to be a recovery plan that leaves no one behind,” I completely agree. Save for the grammatical tic.
But 2022 ought to be a completely different story.
Vermont Republican Party chair Deb Billado is known for penning ultraconservative, pro-Trump screeds in her official role as the party’s leader. But now, at Christmastime, she’s outdone herself with what I can only hope is a feeble attempt at “humor,” which would serve as further proof that there’s no such thing as conservative humor. (Lookin’ at you, @NewsDoneRight.) Because if she was serious, man oh man, she’s gone round the twist.
Billado’s latest epistle takes the form of a letter from Santa who, as he passed over Vermont, observed “a warm light” from below — a light that “conveyed a good feeling to the people, one of security and goodness.”
That light? The Vermont Republican Party.
Santa tops that off by observing that Billado had been “chosen to be its head to steer the course, right and true.”
Ah. The Chosen One. Where have I heard that before?
Two weeks ago, the troubled relationship between the Vermont Republican Party and its most successful politician — Gov. Phil Scott — was, for all intents and purposes, formally terminated. At its biannual reorganization, party delegates re-elected chair Deb Billado to a second two-year term. Billado is an earnest soul, but a staunch conservative and devout Donald Trump fan. And she has had zero success with the admittedly tough task of pulling the party out of the doldrums.
She ran without opposition, which is the real point. Two years ago, Scott came up with a nominee of his own: Michael Donohue (not that guy), a very conservative fellow but a realist with a respectable track record of political organizing in other states. Donohue lost narrowly to Billado, in a result that reflected the party’s Trumpward orientation.
This time, Scott didn’t bother. He didn’t even attend the meeting. (He had a good excuse; Vermont was reeling from a weather disaster, and he was visiting affected areas. But I have a feeling he would have found an excuse to stay away. “Had to walk the dog” or somesuch.)
Delegates elected a slate of far-right Trumpers to top posts. Former attorney general candidate Deb Bucknam is the new vice chair; she replaces Brady Toensing, who resigned last spring to take a position in the Trump Justice Department. (He’s the son of Victoria Toensing, frequent promoter of right-wing conspiracy theories on Fox News along with her husband Joe DiGenova. Brady was a longtime member of the family law firm.)
Other officers include Deb Bucknam’s hubby Charlie as party treasurer and Deb Ricker, re-elected as secretary. Two at-large spots on the executive committee went to onetime state representative Paul Dame, who periodically shows up in my mailbox touting “retirement seminars” with a free dinner at the Steakhouse in Berlin*, and Zachary Hampl (not that guy), a Castleton University student and founder of the local chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty. (Young Zach also endorsed Bruce Lisman over Scott in the 2016 primary battle.)
*If that doesn’t work out for him, maybe he can try hawking timeshares.
None of those worthies is on the same ideological continent as Our Governor. Who, again, didn’t even try to offer alternative candidates more suited to his politics and style.