Donald Trump will speak at the Flynn Theater in downtown Burlington, Vermont on Thursday, January 7. According to news reports, his campaign booked the event just this past week. He speaks in New Hampshire tonight.
So far, only three current Republican presidential candidates have made appearances in the Green Mountain State. Gov. John Kasich was there in October. And [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] spoke to a “packed barn” of Republicans there in August. [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] has appeared at a private fundraiser.
While the state is next door to important early primary New Hampshire, Vermont doesn’t usually draw lots of presidential candidate traffic. It only has three electoral college votes. It’s not a swing state, which means it’s usually a waste of resources for candidates on either the blue or red side of politics to stop there. And its delegate count at conventions isn’t high, either, if persuading primary voters is the goal. For GOP candidates in particular, stops in Vermont are nonstarters. Why expose yourself to the far-left politics of the Green Mountain State, especially its largest city, affectionately and not-so-affectionately dubbed the People’s Republic of Burlington?
So, why is Mr. Trump stopping there? A call and email to the campaign has yet to elicit a response (but, in their defense, it’s not as if I’m a high-powered journo seeking comment).
His campaign didn’t coordinate with the state Republican party, which, according to a statement issued to various news sources, sounds less than enthusiastic about his upcoming engagement. Here’s the statement from Jeff Bartley, executive director of the Vermont Republican Party, as reported in media sources:
“The Vermont Republican Party did not invite Mr. Trump and has no role in his event. Like all presidential candidates, he is welcome to share his thoughts with Vermonters. We hope all candidates will articulate, in a responsible and respectful Vermont way, their ideas for helping to make our state and or nation more affordable and prosperous for working class families. And we look forward to the outcome of the primary campaign between our very diverse group of candidates.”
As an aside, regardless what one thinks of Mr. Trump, that’s a tepid statement at best, an insulting one at worst and, to me, a former resident of the state, no surprise. The Vermont GOP lacks strength, and the “Vermont way” for the state’s Republican establishment seems to be choosing which activities and messages will lead to defeat faster.
I asked some Vermont friends on social media why they thought Mr. Trump was stopping in their state. The best answer I got was from a lifelong New Englander who posited that New Hampshire laughs at the antics of the Green Mountain state, and an appearance in Vermont will give Mr. Trump the opportunity to play to nearby New Hampshire residents’ less-than-kind impressions of their leftist neighbors to the west.
The visit would certainly allow Mr. Trump to expose the intolerance of the Progressive left. A petition to block his appearance circulated, and protests are, of course, planned.
He could also contrast himself with favorite son Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s trying to gain traction in his Democratic run for the presidency while the media is focused on the GOP race. While polls favor Hillary Clinton, Sanders’s fund-raising in the final quarter of 2015 has come close to Sen. Clinton’s. Maybe Mr. Trump thinks Sanders could be the Democratic nominee, and he wants to demonstrate he’s not afraid of this big, bad socialist wolf?
Beats me. It does make me wonder if he’s “wicked smart,” to quote another Vermont friend, taking the time and spending the resources to stop in tiny Vermont, which has little impact on the ultimate outcome of either the primary or general elections. Maybe he sees something there that’s not clear to others.
Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist.