by Robert Maynard
With the party reorganization next month, some in the GOP are looking for new blood. Here is how Terri Hallenbeck, of the Burlingon Free Press put it:
The Vermont Republican Party will hold its reorganizational meeting Nov. 9. Chairman Jack Lindley said it’s too early to say whether he will seek re-election but he could face a challenge from those who want the party to distance itself from national Republicans and who are irked at decisions Lindley made, including paying off $10,000 in debt for 2012 gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock this year. State Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said Lindley has indicated he’s open to new blood. Benning said, however, “There isn’t anybody else I have heard that has their name in the running. It will probably be a last-minute thing.”
This speculation about new leadership comes in the context of a broader, ongoing discussion about rebranding the GOP. Part of that discussion has focused on the need to “moderate” the GOP’s message. One could argue that we have been doing that for a long time now, with a small break from that approach during the 1998 and 2000 election cycles. What I am trying to get at is that the Vermont GOP’s woes go deeper than many imagine and will not be fixed simply by replacing some in a leadership position. I see other reasons for the current state of the VTGOP. One clear example is our long time failure to articulate a credible alternative to the Democrats “Health Care is a Human Right” mantra. They have been trying to push for a single payer plan since the early 1990s and the GOP has offered almost nothing in the way of an alternative free market vision that is compatible with the principles you mentioned, despite the mountain of research that has been done on patient centered free market approaches to the problem. I remember being at a Chittenden County GOP meeting in the early 1990’s when Barbara Snelling came and argued that we should get behind Community Rating and Guaranteed Issue. I was the only one in the room who dissented, though many came up top me afterwards and expressed their agreement. The second attempt at pushing single payer through was during Jim Douglas’ time as Governor. He vetoed it but offered nothing in the way of a free market alternative and ended up signing the Catamount Health Plan that the Democrats proposed.
The single payer plan has been defeated twice because of the unpopularity of proposals to pay for it. It is back now because our side has never discredited the idea in principle and offered an alternative. Except for a brief period in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles, there really was not much of an effort made but GOP campaigns to distinguish us from the Democrats. Randy Brock was far from perfect, but when he announced his bid for office, it was the first time I have ever heard a VTGOP political figure critique the health care is a human right mantra on principle and offer a free market patient centered alternative.
Whether we change leadership is of less inportance than whether we articulate a clear vision that differentiates us from the Democratsa and Progressives. If we do not do this, we are simply re-arranging seats on the decks of the titanic.
I guess what I am trying to get at is that the Vermont GOP’s problems did not just appear in one election cycle and will not be solved simply by separating ourselves from the national GOP. Look at what happened in 2002. In an election where the GOP was winning races all around the nation, the Vermont GOP lost most of the legislative gains that it made in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles. We had the same “re-branding” arguments back then following what was characterized as the “divisive” elections cycles of 1998 and 2000 with Ruth Dwyer at the top of the ticket supported by the “Take Back Vermont” movement. The Vermont GOP has been losing both its base and its bench ever since then. After more than a decade of hollowing out both our base and our bench we have one election where an attempt at making a clear distinction between us and the Democrats was made and that is the source of our problems as a party???? I’m sorry, but I am not buying it.
Again, I welcome the chance to engage in a debate over how best to market the GOP brand, but am a little weary of talk of “rebranding” because I have heard such talk before and am not at all impressed with the results. Before making a claim that we need to rebrand, a credible effort at marketing our brand needs to be made. I have seen no such effort over the years as we only go into campaign mode during an election, while the left never goes out of campaign made.