Joe Benning: To succeed, Vermont Republican Party must be center/right

This commentary is by Joe Benning, outgoing state senator from Caledonia County and a candidate for lieutenant governor this year.

 In the early 1990s, I joined the Vermont Republican Party. I did so because the VTGOP recognized five core principles: a free market economy; a local and efficient government that kept taxes within reason; an educational system that enabled our graduates to compete in a global marketplace; individual liberty; and personal responsibility. 

Those five core principles were wrapped together by a glue that bound us together as a society: the Vermont Constitution. Coupled with Vermont’s proud history of rugged individualism, these things defined our party.

There was no application process when I joined. There was no litmus test. I wasn’t asked whether I followed a particular religion or even if I was religious. I wasn’t asked whether I was pro-life or pro-choice. It was never demanded of me that I swear allegiance to any particular candidate or to every plank in the party’s platform. Nobody in their right mind would have insisted upon blind allegiance to an ideologue. 

Civility, integrity and an assumption that our election process was trustworthy were orders of the day.

The only reason a political party organization exists is to elect candidates. The VTGOP’s sole objective is supposed to be targeted at recruiting and electing those who can get elected. Even George Aiken, perhaps the most frugal VTGOP member, recognized one of government’s chief responsibilities is to help those in need. 

I’ve now participated in nine elections, the last being my first statewide. Successful in six and unsuccessful in three, I flatter myself in thinking I understand what it takes to get elected.

So where is the VTGOP today? A minor contingent still firmly believes the Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol was a patriotic event. A few display large flags on their homes and vehicles that say “F**CK Biden.” The loudest voices on social media (thankfully still few in number) spew vitriol and hatred against the highest vote recipients in the VTGOP and those who’ve spent the most time trying to hold the party together. 

They continue a narrative designed to undermine faith in our electoral process, label those legitimately in need as leeches on society, and adhere to every QAnon conspiracy imaginable as if it is established fact.

Like it or not, that is an image problem we VTGOP candidates deal with on the campaign trail. Sure, everybody has a right to free speech. But these immature, sometimes dangerous and often bullying techniques will never attract electable candidates or Vermont voters to the VTGOP. Nobody marching to this drumbeat has a chance of ever getting elected in Vermont. 

Some will argue Donald Trump’s vote tally in the 2020 election (112,704) is something to build upon. Mathematically, that is not possible. Vermont’s voting demographic has twice soundly rejected his candidacy, giving Biden 242,820 votes in that same election. 

Vermonters want civility, integrity and trust in the people they vote for. The vast majority long ago decided Trump does not provide those things. No argument will change that. If the VTGOP is to survive and thrive, we’d best be moving on.

VTGOP leaders must recognize the largest voting bloc in Vermont is not Republicans or Democrats or Progressives. It is those who consider themselves independents. If VTGOP leaders move to rigid right-wing ideologues for comfort, we lose that bloc. 

The VTGOP course must remain center/right. As ideologues in the Democratic/Progressive supermajority drive policy that runs counter to Vermont traditions and fiscal capacity, independents will be alienated. This provides an opportunity for VTGOP candidates who stay true to, and can articulate, our five core principles and the glue that binds them together.


About Commentaries publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. Authors are limited to one commentary published per month from February through May; the rest of the year, the limit is two per month, space permitting. The minimum length is 400 words, and the maximum is 850 words. We require commenters to cite sources for quotations and on a case-by-case basis we ask writers to back up assertions. We do not have the resources to fact check commentaries and reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and inaccuracy. We do not publish commentaries that are endorsements of political candidates. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Tom Kearney,


Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.


Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Joe Benning: To succeed, Vermont Republican Party must be center/righ..."
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.