When Frosted Republicans Seek a Third Way

by Martin Harris

In lots of ways, many described in these column-inches, Vermont’s socio-political situation is anomalous in comparison to national norms; for one example, it has recently enjoyed upper-middle-and upper-income-quintile in-migration modestly out-numbering middle-income out-migration. Places like VT, with governmentally-created high costs-of-stay –taxes, housing, energy, land-use regulation, business climate– and non-governmentally-created ones, like high conventional fuel and food transport costs, don’t normally see such positive (seen as negative by zero-population-growth advocates, well-represented in Vermont) demographic responses; think most Northeastern States and California for out-migration and the Upper South and Sun-Belt States for in-migration. But in one way the situation is identical: the Republican-strategy problem. A significant national election defeat will create one for a Party; this last one just did. Minor difference in VT: here the GOP has had the problem since 1962 when, enabled by a major voter demographic/philosophy shift invisible to us at the time, Gentry-Left Democrat Philip Hoff won the Governor’s seat for the first such D accomplishment in 150 years. Since then, R’s in the State, just like R’s nation-wide now, with four more years of Prez #44 now ahead, have tried to decide whether the GOP needs to create a new strategic set of platform planks, responding to supposed demographic (ethnic minority and social cohort) changes in the electorate; or to adopt a new tactical set of get-out-the-vote procedures, responding to the often-heard argument that, with better party out-reach and better grass-roots productivity, the necessary majority can be harvested from non-voters who are available but, for various reasons, non-participating.

That’s exactly the choice faced by the national GOP, as very-well-described in a 16 Nov Wall Street Journal analysis by reporters Nelson, King, and Nicholas: “…a tactical failure, a combination of poor articulation of GOP positions and a weak effort to register voters and move them to the polls…” or a strategic mis-match, whether “…the message is wrong for a rapidly diversifying population, and fundamental shifts may be required.” No policy voice is raised to argue against improving the “ward game” (a little Chicago-politics lingo, here) but there are multiple voices to assert that “…we have to figure out how to make our principles more attractive to emerging voters; but, if we abdicate those, we become a very different entity.” Lots of voices, within the GOP and not, have pointed out that the Tea Party (not a party-with-candidates, but a platform movement) arose precisely because its membership had concluded that the GOP had already “abdicated its principles”. Similarly in Vermont: the State GOP since the Hoff years has mostly decided to be “centrist” rather than “conservative” and hasn’t so far opted to look at the numbers for discouraged and non-voting R citizens at all. (Your Humble Scribe tried and failed several times to get just such a telephone survey done.) In simpler language, the choice (Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a wood and I could not travel both…”) is described as one between “better message” and better messenger” or, there might be a “third way” (a little Leftist-triangulation lingo, here) which addresses, not the usual question of some supposed mid-route between “free-stuff from government” (D) versus “free-dom from government” (R) but rather the even-more-vexing problem of “tyranny of the majority (a little John Adams lingo, here) and the path a permanent minority should seek when the governing majority indicates by speech and behavior its disdain for compromise. Newly-risen groups like nationwide and State Tenth Amendment Centers (seeking to re-introduce Constitutional Federalism, the re-capture of State authority via Nullification of over-reaching Federal legislation) and newly sprouted grass-roots actions like the “secession” petitions now headed to Washington from all 50 States, even VT, suggest the possible range of “third ways”.

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So far, Tenth Amendment Centers have been reluctant to speculate on their next step, should their efforts to strengthen Constitutional limitations on Washington fail: only TN politician Zach Wamp directly answered a reporter’s question “Should Nullification fail, what’s next?” with one word: “Secession.” Since then, the standard TAC answer has been a non-answer: “we’ll aggressively pursue Nullification.” At the State and intra-State levels, secession movements –up-State NY from NYC, for example, and eastern rural Washington and Oregon from the Gentry-Left coastal areas, seem to be at new levels of interest, presumably because “tyranny of the majority”, once recognized, is easily deemed incurable. Such departures can be physical –voting with one’s feet—or virtual –staying but changing governance. For the former think today’s Third World refugees with technical skills (yes, there are some such) emigrating to the US for freedom and opportunity; don’t think illegals-seeking-hand-outs; for the latter think such failed efforts as Killington’s attempt to substitute independence (and maybe governance by Concord, NH) for governance by Montpelier, VT, similar to what’s been done by such successful independent municipalities surrounded by unfriendly governances as Norridge and Harwood Heights, IL, surrounded by Chicago; Benbrook and Westover Hills, TX, surrounded by Fort Worth; and Highland Park and Hamtramck, MI, surrounded by uniquely-disfunctional Detroit. And sometimes the out-migration is encouraged by (usually left un-stated but no less real for its secrecy) government policy: Vermont’s departure of young-adult families with children comes directly (Humble Scribe opinion, well-reasoned dissent welcome) from Montpelier-created high cost-of-stay and low career-entry job opportunity policies. The adverb “usually” references a quote from well-known Vermont Gentry-Left environmentalist-ecologist-academic Douglas Burden. As recalled by Ethan Allen Institute founder and Prez-emeritus John McClaughry, DB argued that too many ordinary middle-class folks in the State would spoil it for his sort –the more environmentally sensitive and economically well-placed of his own social and political circles– and that the best way to discourage growth (and encourage shrinkage) in hoi polloi numbers –those middle-income-quintiles folks who need actual jobs, commerce, and industry in order to enjoy viewscapes and wilderness, folks who might well vote against expansion of government, regulation, and taxation– is to make it economically impossible for them to stay. Just as US Prez 32 said: “nothing in politics happens by accident.”