This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
The Democrats’ strength in governing has been (especially at the national level) that every one falls in line and follows the leader without question. And for a time they were able to deliver results even though it meant that rank and file members had to vote for things not because they or their staff understood it — but because they trusted their party leaders and voted as they were instructed. This discipline led to Democrats passing Obamacare when even Speaker Pelosi publicly admitted she didn’t know what was in the bill. But it seems that the “loyalty” that has held their party together is beginning to fray. And this is giving Republicans an opportunity to earn small wins despite a deck stacked against them.
The first crack in the armor came last Tuesday when the Democrat-controlled Senate held a vote on a Republican House-passed bill to restrict the ability of pension funds from using ESG metrics as a guideline for investment decisions. Under a Biden administration rule, pension funds which are responsible for the retirement security of millions of Americans were given leeway to make decisions based on politically charged criteria that would benefit Democrat-leaning donors, instead of based purely on financial metrics that have been in practice for decades. Two Democrats who are up for tough re-elections, Sen. Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Tester of Montana voted with Republicans to repeal Biden’s ideological push that invalidated common sense and generally accepted practices in the industry. This was seen as a huge blunder for Senate Democrats who allowed such a vote to come to the floor when the overwhelming majority of their caucus opposes it. But it showed that even though Republicans control only the U.S. House there is a pathway for their pragmatic policy to advance, even in a divided congress, while also exposing the fact that Democrats are becoming divided amongst themselves (especially those facing re-election) as their policies are driven more by extreme ideology, and less by centrists.
This divide was further exposed as it was announced that President Joe Biden would be facing a primary challenge from previous presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. While Williamson’s 2020 campaign was lackluster, it’s notable that this is the first time that an incumbent president from either party is has been in a contested primary since George H.W. Bush was challenged by Pat Buchanan in 1992. President Biden is also the first Democrat to face a primary challenge since Jimmy Carter — continuing a long line of comparisons to that one-term president. Polling indicates that despite Biden’s commitment to run again, many Democrats are hoping for someone else, and the anti-Trump sentiment that held the party together in 2020 doesn’t unite around Biden as closely as they united against Trump
But even here in Vermont where the Democrats enjoy a super-majority, they are beginning to see similar kinds of division between the ideological purists, and more reasonable Democrats who are comfortable thinking for themselves and their constituents.
As I wrote last week, Democrats are pushing a new elections bill that is trying to hamstring Vermont’s Progressive Party. In the end they were successful in making sure that Progressives will never again have the choice to put their party listed first on the ballot if they win the Democrat primary. But despite having a 100+ member super-majority, Democrats in leadership were barely able to muster a simple majority (coming up with a mere 78 votes) to protect their bill from a floor amendment from Independent Laura Sibilia. This is the first major fracture we’ve seen among House Democrats in this new biennium, showing that leadership doesn’t have as tight a grip on their members as they used to.
And in the other chamber we also saw that division playing out among the party-first top-down urban-centric ideological views of Democrats in Senate leadership pitted against rural Democrats who are more independent-minded and loyal to their voters over the party when both were clashing on S.5 the Unaffordable Heat Act. Here was another example of a bill that was perfectly in line with talking points from the Democrats, but just didn’t make sense based on many common-sense metrics. While some Democrats leaned on climate alarmism, others were looking very pragmatically at the fact that even if we desire some of these goals the simple reality is that they are unachievable given the lack of workforce to create the transformation needed. In fact there may be significant unintended consequences that could leave some Vermonters paying anywhere from an additional 70 cents to over 3 or 4 dollars per gallon of heating fuel which could translate to thousands of dollars over the long cold Vermont winters. In the end three Senate Democrats broke ranks with their leadership and the bill passed on a vote of 19-10. But once again it shows that Democrats, both in Vermont and nationally are just pushing too far to the left, and are leaving behind many voters, and even some elected officials who want to take a more common sense approach and avoid a lot of the rhetoric that doesn’t directly translate to measurable improvements in the lives of Vermonters.
As these divisions among Democrats deepen (ranging from Biden and ESG to election bills and heating taxes) Vermont Republicans will continue to be the faithful opposition to these extreme measures and instead advocate for the interests of regular Vermonters on important issues from the promises of pensions to the privacy of the ballot box and even to the pragmatism of heating one’s home. Our aim is to continue to keep Vermont’s government affordable, accountable and flexible to respond to the needs of our people.