Down in the Weeds: Vermont and New Hampshire

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Starting this analysis is the state of Vermont, let us be clear about something.  Many Republicans who emerged from Vermont victorious simply have the “R” after their name when it should more rightly be an “L” for Libertarian, or more appropriately, RINO.


In 2018, the GOP in Vermont took serious losses in the state legislature.  Part of the problem was miscalculation and the story of GOP incumbent Kurt Wright of Burlington is indicative.  The state GOP considered his seat safe and offered little help despite pleas for help.  He, for the first time in many cycles, resorted to grassroots door-knocking and lawn signs.  In the end, he lost.  Coupled with other losses, the legislature lost its ability to sustain gubernatorial vetoes.  Republican Governor Scott- described as socially liberal and fiscally conservative- for example, vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill.  Today, Republicans are talking about considering a $15 minimum wage and working with Democrats toward those ends.  That is called surrender, capitulation, and demoralization.

Most pundits in New England noted that the results in Vermont were attributable to two factors: better GOTV efforts by Democrats and the GOP’s association with Trump.  One commentator asserts that the national GOP, via Trump, has been a major liability for Republicans in Vermont.  Instead, there are suggestions that the GOP recruit moderate candidates in populated areas.  There are even suggestions that Republicans drop the “R” after their name and run as independents.  No offense to these pundits, but being a conservative Republican is, in and of itself, a major liability in Vermont with or without Trump.

For many years now, the Vermont GOP has had difficulty recruiting viable candidates for office.  This trend started way before Donald Trump was on the political scene.  Dropping their problems at the feet of Trump is disingenuous.  In 2018, other than the Governor’s position, not a single Republican for executive office had any name recognition in a very small state.


In the aftermath of the 2018 losses, some within the party in Vermont have decided to use Trump-style rhetoric.  The disunity is noted in the words of party vice-chairman Brady Toensing when he stated the GOP in Vermont will not go out of its way to endorse Trump, but neither will they go out of their way to criticize him.

What Vermont is witnessing is a reflexive reaction at the local level to the national party that occupies the White House.  Republicans made gains when Obama was president and Democrats made gains when Bush was President.  This trend in Vermont has been noted previously by political analysts familiar with the state.  Regardless, Vermont is now left with a Republican Governor and a veto-overriding Democratic legislature.  The GOP better hope these cyclical trends hold true come 2024 and beyond since they have done little to address the disunity in the party.

Moving to New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state is also rocked by disunity.  Unlike neighboring Vermont which every Republican candidate can pretty much write off as hopeless, such is not the case in the Granite State.  If you read political experts, they view New Hampshire as almost a mirror of Vermont when it comes to the GOP: How do you recruit candidates and what do you do about Trump?

Again, that misses the point entirely.  Perhaps recruitment is a problem, but the state party had financial difficulties and dysfunction before Trump.  If anything, Trump has simply brought the existing problems to the fore.  When Wayne MacDonald took over as party chair after Jeanie Forrester abruptly quit, they had only $650 in the bank and over $60,000 in debt and unpaid bills.  At their state convention, the GOP leaders were left complimenting the Democrats on their unity, organizational skills, and fundraising ability.  This has very little to do with Trump.  Instead, Republican Governor Chris Sununu has been roundly criticized in GOP circles for turning his back on these problems.


The person now tasked with fixing these problems is Steve Stepenek.  He won the most recent election to take over as state party chair.  He was also someone who helped run Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 in New Hampshire.  Not only did Trump beat his opponents in the primary, he narrowly lost to Clinton in the general election in the state.

However, the anti-Trump wing of the party in New Hampshire is leery of Stepenek’s ties to Trump while there is a large contingent of Republicans in the state who are equally tired and fed up with people who do not support Trump.  Recently, Trump supporters were beaten back on an attempt to eliminate the state presidential primary just as South Carolina and Nevada had decided.  The amendment to their rules was defeated with the fence-sitters and anti-Trump contingent uniting under the banner of “neutrality.”  Instead, a primary will be held as Trump is up against a contingent of eventual losers in the form of Mark Sanford (who cannot find the Appalachian Trail and has since suspended his campaign), Bill Weld, and Joe Walsh (not even the good one that plays guitar).

There are two noise-makers in New Hampshire that clearly illustrate the rift between both sides.  Recently, John Kasich visited the state to tout his new book.  Most of the questions were about anything but his book and about a possible 2020 run against Trump.  Said Kasich, “In terms of the Republican Party, it better change. I don’t recognize this party, not the party I belong to.”  Of course, this is just a rehash of the pablum he offered the audiences in 2016.


On the other side is the lingering possibility that Trump operative, Corey Lewandowski, may enter the race to take on Democrat senator Jeanne Shaheen.  Lewandowski talks like Trump- unfiltered.  He called Shaheen a “partisan hack,” attacked former “GOP” senator Judd Gregg by saying he “took a military deferment for bed-wetting” to avoid Vietnam and said the moderate, mainstream Republicans in the state are also responsible for running New Hampshire “into the ground.”

As of this writing, he has not entered the race.  That probably has the state GOP relieved.  Many Republicans in the state have expressed their anxiety over a Lewandowski campaign.  In effect, they hope to avoid what they call “Trumpism” getting a foothold in the state, especially given the symbolic importance of their primary.

It should be noted that tensions between the more conservative New Hampshire Republicans and more moderate ones is nothing new and predates the arrival of Trump on the scene.  Trump and, by proxy, Lewandowski and Stepenek may be bringing it more out into the open.  The differences may not be policy per se, but more one of style and rhetoric.  In essence, the New Hampshire GOP may accurately reflect the average NeverTrumper- willing to take the loss for the sake of so-called “principle.”  They seem more content to play the martyr than to actually win an election.



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