During the final gubernatorial debate between Republican Governor Phil Scott and Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist, Scott complained that "attaching me to national Republicans” was unfair.
The irony is that it is national Republicans who are attaching themselves to Phil Scott. The dark money Republican Governors Association has already spent $700,000 on Scott’s reelection effort – a good chunk of it being used to send out misleading mailers attacking Hallquist. The same group, funded by the Koch Brothers and other special interests, shelled out nearly $3,000,000 to elect Scott in 2016.
National Republicans are willing to spend big to support Scott because, on so many issues, he hews the national party line. This year’s vetoes of minimum wage, paid family leave and toxics protections are straight out of the national GOP’s playbook. So is his hostility to teachers and public employees, his equivocation on climate change, and his stubborn determination to protect tax cuts for the rich.
Republican Governor Scott has carefully cultivated an image as some kind of “independent Republican”, aware of how toxic national Republicans and Trump are here in Vermont.
But while Scott likes to claim he stands up to Trump, a more accurate description would be that he occasionally, when asked, voices mild “concern” or “disappointment” with Trump. Rather than leading state level opposition to Trump, Phil Scott’s approach is a timid “duck and cover.”
In a 2013 VPR interview , Scott declared “I’m a Republican because I chose to be” and “I embrace being a conservative.”
So why does Scott continue to choose to be a Republican today? The Republican Party has become the party of Trump… of separating families, of intolerance, of racial division, of tax cuts for the rich and taking health care away from millions.
And it isn’t just nationally – here in Vermont, the state Republican Party is also increasingly far right. Scott was rebuffed when the party overwhelmingly rejected his choice for party chair, opting instead for a hardcore Trump backer. The party’s National Committeewoman claimed that Roy Moore was an innocent victim of a smear campaign. Their Committeeman actively defended Trump’s characterization of “good people on both sides” of the Nazi march in Charlottesville.
In 2001 Vermont Senator James Jeffords (who Scott claims he “tried to model my own career off of”) faced a Republican Party that was veering sharply to the right. He realized that he could no longer in good conscience represent Vermont and his personal values while remaining a Republican. His decision to leave the party is today remembered in Vermont as an act of courage and integrity. Phil Scott could have a similar impact if he left the party and became an independent – but he won’t do that.
Remaining a Republican today only provides political cover to Donald Trump and his enablers.
As conservative commentator Max Boot wrote recently: “Whatever their private qualms, no Republicans have consistently held Trump to account….If you’re as sick and tired as I am of being sick and tired about what’s going on, vote against all Republicans. Every single one. That’s the only message they will understand.”