Vt. GOP struggle: Go moderate? Or stay the course of conservative?

Phill Scott

Phil Scott

They’ve descended to super-minority status in both the House and Senate, and lay claim to just one of Vermont’s six statewide offices.

By the numbers at least, the once-dominant Vermont Republicans have reached a new low in their years-long fall from grace. Their fight for the future, however, is being waged not with the Democrats that so embarrassed them in the last two election cycles, but among fellow Republicans vying against each other for control of the party’s organizational apparatus.

The emergence of two factions — one led by Vermont Republican Party Chairman Jack Lindley, the other by Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — has pitted the old-guard GOP against a cadre of upstart reformists looking to put some distance between themselves and the Republican National Committee.

As a group led by Scott pieces together a statewide re-branding strategy aimed at picking up the centrists and Independents he says have been turned off by the party in recent years, Lindley and others are beginning to push back against a plan that would, in Lindley’s words, “turn its back on the national party.”

“I’m not about to go down the road of trying to have a party in Vermont that’s Democrat-lite,” Lindley said in an interview last week.

Civil strife within the Vermont GOP comes on the heels of a general election last November that saw the party’s already meager holdings diminished even further. The lone bright spot — a convincing victory by Scott for the state’s number-two office — only prompted speculation about whether the former state senator from Washington County would rebel and declare as an Independent before the next cycle.

“Of course the elections were disappointing to many, and unsurprising to others,” Scott said in an interview Monday. “At the time, I was asked almost immediately what I was going to do to resurrect the Republican Party. What was I going to do to help shape or determine what the future of the Vermont Republican Party was going to be? And my response was always that until the Republican Party and those there admitted there was a problem, there wasn’t much I could do.”

In the weeks that followed, however, Scott said he was approached by a number of disaffected Republicans from across the state asking him to help redefine a party that, according to him, has strayed from the core principles that once played so well with the Vermont electorate.

“It’s difficult to put your finger on when the Republican Party started to deteriorate, and I do think that’s what has happened,” Scott said. “I certainly do blame the national party, the national image.”

Specifically, Scott said, the emphasis on social conservatism at the national level has sullied the party’s branding efforts in Vermont. And putting some distance between the national GOP and Vermont has become one of the guiding tenets of the new committee Scott….

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