Will the real Phil Scott please stand up?

So, Phil Scott, last seen singing “All By Myself” in the karaoke bar at the Capitol Plaza*, is the Last Republican Standing. A tiny red dot in an unbroken sea of blue. And other poetic imagery. So now, what the hell does he do?

*Kidding. The Plaza doesn’t have a karaoke bar. Way too classy for that.

Well, he squeezed a few minutes out of his schedule Thursday morning to stop by the Mark Johnson Show on WDEV  (interview archived at the link). It wasn’t really a full-fledged interview; about 15 minutes, including two very off-topic callers. So Mark had time to chase Captain Nice around a little, but not to really pin him down.

He did get the Lite-Gov to issue an interestingly limited denial of any plans to leave the GOP and go independent.

I’m not contemplating that, but you never know what happens in the future. I’m running as an individual, I’m running as Phil Scott. I happen to be a Republican, but I’m objective, I do listen to all sides, and I don’t necessarily follow anybody’s party line.

Later, Mark tried again: “Governor Shumlin would never run as anything other than a Democrat. Can you say the same?”

I don’t think I can say that, but I don’t have any aspirations of doing anything different. I’ll take two years at a time and see what happens. But I can’t say that I’m never going to do anything different.

Aw shucks, just li’l ol’ No. 14 makin’ his way around the track.

After the jump: Moderate or conservative? And, the choices he faces.

He said that he is loyal to the Republicans, but acknowledges that the far-right move of the national party has tainted the image of the GOP in the eyes of many moderates and independents. He proclaimed himself to be a moderate Republican, in the mold of “the George Aikens, the Bob Staffords, Deane Davis, those types of Republicans…” and he later added Dick Snelling and Jim Douglas to his list. Curious by his absence was Jim Jeffords, the lifelong moderate Republican who went independent because he felt the party had moved away from him.

What struck me was that when he started talking issues, he didn’t sound particularly moderate. He talked about the high cost of living in Vermont in words that could have come right out of Randy Brock’s platform.

I’ve always been one who listens to people. …and in the last two years, listening to Vermonters, they’re talking about affordability. They’re talking about how can I stay here? How can I afford to keep my kids here? How am I going to pay my property taxes?

And I guess the only solution that I can see, because we don’t seem to really really cut our overhead. If you look at the state as a business, if you can’t cut your overhead you can’t cut your costs. So if we’re not willing to do that, then we’ve got to grow the revenue. The only way you grow your revenue, I think, is to grow the economy. So I’m going to push that over the next two years. I think everything we do should be about how do we grow our economy? How do we make this a more prosperous state?  

Which also sounds a lot like Randy Brock. Or Jim Douglas. Or, to be fair, Peter Shumlin. And sure, we all want the economy to grow so that people have good jobs etc., but the problem is that this very language has been used by Republicans to push a pro-business agenda. So whether Phil Scott is really a moderate, depends on how he would pursue a growth agenda. It does make me uneasy to hear him say that “everything we do” should be about growth.

So the question I’d have for Phil Scott is this: What exactly makes you a moderate Republican? And don’t give me tolerance for marriage equality or abortion rights, those are no-brainers in Vermont. Tell me what makes you a centrist on the scope of government, labor rights, the environment, renewable energy? Where do you stand on health care reform? Single payer? Vermont Yankee? The war on drugs? Act 250?

I don’t expect Scott to be moderate on all of those issues, but I’d like to know exactly what makes him a moderate. I haven’t heard that yet.

Mark Johnson also asked, of course, about running for Governor, and noted that as the GOP’s only statewide officeholder, Scott would be under enormous pressure to run.

I get asked that all the time. But I answer it the same way. I don’t have that aspiration at this point. I think you have to really want that. Maybe that will evolve, I don’t know. But that’s not part of my game plan


And elsewhere, he said more of the same.

You have to have the aspiration to do something like that. The Governor maybe had made the assumption that he would be Governor when he entered  elementary school. I’ve never had those aspirations. I’m just doing this because I think there’s a role for me to play. And for the last two years as Lieutenant Governor, I’ve filled that role. I think I’ve done a lot.

…But I guess if you have a vision of being somebody else, then you take a different path and you become a lightning rod. I’m just there to serve. I don’t have any long-range goals.

Still playing the role of Good Old Phil Scott, the innocent abroad. And for all I know, he was perfectly sincere. But whether or not it was in his “game plan,” he now finds himself in a situation where he’s going to have to make some great big decisions. He can be content with being Lieutenant Governor, being everybody’s friend, racing stock cars and taking bike tours, and let the chips fall where they may regarding the VTGOP.

But he is, by default, the standard-bearer for his party. And, if you believe (as I do) that the VTGOP needs to move closer to the center if it is to avoid permanent fringe status, then Phil Scott is uniquely poised to lead it in that direction. That’s going to require a lot of work and sizeable cojones, a willingness to take control of his party by the scruff and lead it in a new direction.

We have yet to see what Phil Scott the politician really is — in terms of wielding power, and in terms of policy preferences. He is now in a situation that will force him to make difficult decisions and start to alienate people. If he stays out of the fray, he’ll be a huge disappointment to his party. If he stays in the GOP, he’ll have to either try to bend it in his direction and alienate conservatives, or start moving himself to the right and alienate all his precious moderate and Democratic friends. If he goes independent, he’ll have to turn his personal popularity into a political movement with real ideas and plans, not just warm fuzzies.

Will the real Phil Scott please stand up?  

One thought on “Will the real Phil Scott please stand up?

  1. We know where he stands on Vermont Yankee.  He was one of the 4 senators who voted for its continuing to operate.

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