Sooner or later, the Vermont Republican Party will have to sort through some stuff. Some unpleasant, downright Trumpian stuff swirling around Rutland these days, sparked by the proposed settlement of 100 Syrian refugees.
It won’t be an issue this fall — except in Rutland. And it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Phil Scott has to say about it. To judge by his usual metrics, he’ll come out with a mealy-mouthed thing about taking everyone’s views into consideration and finding common ground.
Instead of, you know, the right thing: condemning the dog-whistle racialism being spewed by opponents of settlement — the likes of Rutland First and its allies.
The real moment of truth is likely to come next March, when the nativists will almost certainly field candidates who would block the settlement and try to defenestrate incumbent Mayor Chris Louras, the primary author of the settlement plan.
That’s when the VTGOP will have to choose sides. Or, you know, duck and cover.
So I just took a driving trip through Canada. And of course I was exposed to a bunch of subversive ideas.
After all, we’re talking about a country that just handed a spectacular defeat to a Prime Minister who aggressively demagogued the refugee issue while his challenger, Justin Trudeau, campaigned on a promise to accept another 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year.
Wait, the voters picked the pro-refugee guy?
Yup, Canada’s a funny place. And while traveling through the True North Strong and Free, I read a brilliant essay in the right-of-center National Post. It was by political commentator Michael den Tandt, and it argued that welcoming refugees — even Muslims — ought to be a Conservative cause.
Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman have spent this week trying to define their positions on admitting Syrian refugees. The issue is a sure-fire hit in Republican constituencies across the country, but here in Vermont the blowback seems to outweigh the benefit.
The topline for both men is pretty much identical — a “pause” in the refugee program until we can be reassured about security safeguards. But the devil, don’tcha know, is in the details. And if you take them both at face value, they want to put the program on the shelf for a long time.
Scott makes happy noises about “a nation of immigrants” and our values and the Statue of Liberty. But look closely at his terms and conditions he presented in his essay on the subject:
…my goal is to ensure the federal program moves forward with security protocols Vermonters, and all Americans, can have confidence in.
And there’s the deal-breaker. If Scott means what he wrote, he wants the refugee program shelved until every American is satisfied. That will never happen. How can you possibly convince people who think Obama is a Kenyan and see Islam as a religion of hate?
Lisman’s position is essentially the same, but his rhetoric is angrier and his conditions are more overtly unreachable.
This week has seen Republican front-runner Phil Scott having a bit of trouble articulating a clear policy on America’s refugee program. Of course, he’s not terribly experienced at the job; one of the main perks of being Lieutenant Governor is that you don’t have to articulate clear policy stances. You can just kind of fuzzle around.
Meanwhile, his opponent Bruce Lisman has been shading his positions in the other direction. You may recall that, at first, the two seemed to be saying the same thing. But while Scott has shifted in a more welcoming direction, Lisman has sharpened his attacks on the security of the refugee program and on Governor Shumlin and President Obama.
Sigh. I fondly recall the good old days of Campaign for Vermont, when Lisman insisted he was nonpartisan and, in fact, had been a Democrat for most of his life. Well, now he’s declaring that he has no faith in the President’s ability to maintain security.
It looks like he has realized his only shot at the Republican nomination is to run to Phil Scott’s right. His opening gambit: a chorus of dog whistles aimed at stirring up anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Good God, I hope he goes down in flames. Metaphorically speaking, of course.