By Michael Miley
This week the national media has run countless stories about the Vermont gubernatorial primary election. The common thread throughout was a focus not on the issues facing Vermonters, but rather on the particular nature of the candidates running. They focused on Christine Hallquist, who is transgendered, and Ethan Sonneborn, who is 14 year old. It’s an old pastime for the media to poke fun at Vermont elections, since they often feature several sincere but eccentric candidates, but this election there was no clear Democratic choice for governor, and Hallquist’s primary win was mostly unexpected.
This election will be known as the triumph of social and identity politics. With Hallquist in the race, the liberal media can spin the upcoming general election as a “transgendered person bravely facing the archetypal feckless straight white male” incarnate, Gov. Phil Scott. It appears the Democrats are using this election to test a potential strategy to use against Republicans now, and against Trump in 2020. Indeed, the large photo on the front page of the Drudge Report last Tuesday night was a picture of Hallquist, with a sign saying, “The blue wave starts here.”
And so it shall, because even if Phil Scott wanted to have an open and frank conversation about the substantive measures that need to be taken to address the hard questions facing Vermonters, he wont be able to. The media will pressure him into refraining from any serious discussion or debate about Hallquist’s positions, calling her potential election “historic” and “symbolic.” When was the last time you heard the media use those words in the same sentence as Phil Scott?
So, as the Vermont GOP struggles to find an identity among conservatives and liberals both enamored and repulsed by the seismic force that is President Donald Trump, the Democrats have presented themselves as being representative of all sorts of different minority identities: racial, sexual, spiritual, etc.
This very well may be a winning strategy in Vermont, where many people may not only tolerate the idea of a transsexual being governor, but in fact support it enthusiastically. In the rest of the United States, this strategy may not be as effective. Using Vermont as a test case for their larger political narratives, the Democrats have once again shown how completely out of touch they are with most voters angry about losing more and more control over their children’s education and having their gun rights eroded away.
There are a sizeable group of Republicans and Democrats who, nonetheless, oppose gun control measures and share a common concern over the size of the state government. This group was mostly represented by Keith Stern, and also state Sen. John Rodgers. Rodgers, a Blue Dog (i.e., conservative-leaning) Democrat, is a strong supporter of gun rights who emerged to statewide prominence in the wake of Scott’s signing into law sweeping new gun control measures last May. Scott handily won the GOP primary against challenger Keith Stein, but if enough conservatives are still seriously turned off by Phil Scott, the political heft of the Burlington and Montpelier elite may very well turn out to be enough to make Hallquist governor.
As things stand now, the GOP is stuck between betraying its principles for a larger share of the state’s more left-leaning votes, or giving up control of the executive branch. It is not a noble strategy by any means, but it is moderately effective; while Phil Scott did enjoy broad Republican support in the 2016 election, he also had the support of these same Blue Dog Democrats as well. It is a question if Scott can win back the trust of these voters.
Michael Miley is a guest columnist. He lives in West Burke, Vermont.