Trump campaign makes push in Vermont as GOP leadership is reinstated

Deb Billado
Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party, speaks at the party’s election night gathering in November 2018. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Days after the Vermont Republican Party reelected its chair Deb Billado, one of the party’s foremost pro-Trump voices, the president’s campaign team announced that it will be working with local party leaders in the state to elect GOP candidates. 

An Republican National Committee official said that the “Vermont Trump Victory Team” will be offering candidates in Vermont access to an RNC-backed grass roots training program, messaging and digital resources to “identify and target voters with near surgical precision.” 

“In conjunction with the Vermont Republican Party, Trump Victory will work to organize volunteers, engage with supporters and ensure that Republican candidates up and down the ballot are supported and will be elected in 2020,” RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt wrote in an email. 

Three local Republican Party officials will be working with the RNC and Trump campaign staffers. 

“We’ll organize that quickly and we’ll develop a strategy to not only get Trump re-elected but to help all of our Republican candidates,” said Chet Greenwood, the Orleans County chair of the Republican Party, who is part of the effort. 

The other two “Trump campaign honorary state chairs” are Rick Cochran, the chair of the Caledonia County Republicans, and Laura Benner, the chair of the Republican committee in South Burlington.

Greenwood said the group will be focusing on the issues that most Republicans in the state agree on, like health care and gun rights, as well as the president’s accomplishments since he took office in 2016. 

“They’ve got more money in their pockets, better jobs, more security, home ownership is up with him,” Greenwood said of voters since Trump was elected. “There’s so many positive things he’s done but no one will give him credit for it.”  

Many elected Republicans in Vermont have sought to distance themselves from Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the state. 

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In 2018, when several Republicans lost seats in the House, and Democrats gained a supermajority, some moderate GOP members blamed Trump, and said it was difficult campaigning in Vermont with a party label linked to the president. 

President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks on the government shutdown
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden in January 2019. White House photo by Tia Dufour

Some also criticized the state party for supporting Trump, and mirroring his rhetoric leading up to what would be the Republican Party’s worst legislative election in decades. 

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, said Monday that given the president’s low approval rating in the state, he would rather see an effort to support Republican candidates that “will actually help our campaign and not hurt it.”

“I would prefer that they campaign in other counties,” Brock said of the Trump-backed campaigning. “We want to concentrate on Vermont issues, we don’t want to get dragged into the entire issue of the national politics.” 

The Trump campaign’s announcement came after the state party this weekend reelected Billado as its leader. Billado, who did not respond to a request for comment, ran unopposed and was elected nearly unanimously. 

Because she ran uncontested, the voting members of the party moved to cast a single ballot in favor of her reelection. The motion, which passed by voice vote, was nearly unanimous, with only two voting against it, according to Joe Luneau, a delegate from Franklin County.

He and James Gregoire a state representative from Franklin County opposed the motion.

Luneau said that after the Vermont GOP saw “the worst showing for the Republican party” in its history last year, he couldn’t support Billado.

“I didn’t think that it was right and appropriate to endorse the same leadership team for another cycle,” Luneau said.

Billado has faced criticism from Republicans including Gov. Phil Scott, who suggested after the losses in last year’s election that the party find new leaders. 

“In 2012, after the Red Sox finished last in their division, they fired head coach Bobby Valentine, hired a new manager and went on to win the World Series the following year,” Scott’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, told VTDigger last December. 

The governor also recently criticized Billado’s rhetoric blasting those opposed to the president. In August, she called Trump’s detractors a “mob of hate-crazed, fear-driven people who have become deranged because he upset their dreams (our nightmare) of electing crooked Hillary Clinton.” 

But on Monday, Scott, who is expected to run for reelection in 2020, commended Billado’s reelection. 

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott at his weekly press conference on Oct. 24. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

“The Governor congratulates Deb on her victory,” Kelley said in an email. “As he’s said, it’s only 11 months into his term and he’s solely focused on achieving real results to improve the lives of Vermonters, grow the economy and make Vermont more affordable.” 

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While Billado’s bid for party chair was unopposed this year, in 2017, she faced opposition from Mike Donohue, chair of the Chittenden County Republicans, who was backed by Scott. 

Donohue said he and the other members of the state’s Republican committee all supported Billado this time around because she is working to “bridge the gaps” in the party, and elect Republicans in 2020. 

“She’s determined to focus on the basics, on funding and identifying candidates and trying to get folks to understand that we are still a broad party with diverging traditions and still we need to focus on Vermont, not so much keep our eyes on DC,” he said.

He also said that if someone challenged Billado, it would only divide the party further. 

“If you had had that kind of fight, the party would not have emerged strongly from it,” Donohue said. 

“This was the best course,” he added. “To blame one person for all the trends and the declines that we had in the party for the last several decades wouldn’t be fair, particularly when we know that the state chair has worked very hard.” 

Clarification: An earlier version of this story described Deb Billado’s reelection as state GOP chair as unanimous, according to information provided by Mike Donohue, Chittenden County party chair. However, after publication, a Franklin County delegate told VTDigger that he and a fellow Franklin County delegate voted against the motion.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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