New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was due in Vermont on Wednesday for a Republican fundraiser at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction. A sold-out crowd was prepared to hear from the rising Republican star, who is one of the prominent hopes of the moderate wing of the party.
Vermont’s leading Republican officeholder, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, helped organize the Christie appearance. Scott told the news website vtdigger.org that Republicans were “excited” that Christie was coming, especially after his big electoral victory last month.
Scott has been trying to guide the Vermont party in a moderate direction, distancing it from the right-wing ideologues who dominate the national party. Thus, he pushed for the election of David Sunderland as the party’s new chairman. Sunderland, a former House member from Rutland Town, is plenty conservative, but he knows how to moderate his rhetoric and to avoid the ideological pitfalls toward which the national party seems to have a suicidal attraction.
Christie’s appearance in Vermont bolsters Scott’s efforts and should generate enthusiasm among Vermont Republicans, who have had little to cheer about in recent years. And it comes at a time when congressional Republicans are taking steps to distance themselves from the iron grip of the tea party and the political action groups that have driven the party to the right.
The budget deal reached between Republican and Democratic negotiators from the House and Senate represents a retreat from the budget brinksmanship that led to the government shutdown this fall and which threatened a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt. For three years, Republicans have used bully-boy tactics to hold the government hostage in order to exact budget concessions. After President Obama and congressional Democrats successfully thwarted them during the government shutdown crisis, Republican leaders concluded they needed to try something different.
Thus, Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, reached agreement this week with Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, on a two-year budget deal that will restore some of the budget cuts enacted earlier this year, will raise some fees to cut the deficit, and will prevent for a time the destructive budget showdowns like those engineered by Republicans since they won a House majority in 2010.
The budget deal was immediately denounced by right-wingers who believe any form of compromise to be the equivalent of surrender. But it appears congressional leaders, such as Ryan, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have seen the virtue of moving away from kamikaze politics.
On another front, some Republicans are proving more reluctant to foment the kind of Republican primary challenges that have led to election defeats for Republicans. Rep. Steve Stockman, an arch-conservative from Texas, had announced that he would mount a primary challenge against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn. It was Stockman’s view that Cornyn wasn’t conservative enough — an absurdity in that Cornyn is one of the most conservative senators. But because Stockman is a loose cannon who can be counted on for unpredictable and outrageous statements, influential conservatives have refused to support him. They have seen what has happened to other Republican officeholders when loony primary challengers take them on.
So Christie’s visit to Vermont comes at a propitious time for Republicans. Nationally, GOP leaders are pulling the party back from the edge of the cliff. And with his big election win, Christie has positioned himself as a potential beneficiary of a drift back to the center. He is often a tactless tough talker who alienates people of all persuasions, but he ought to give a boost to the morale of Vermont Republicans.
With their long and distinguished history, Republicans in Vermont know that successful governance requires moderation, reason and compromise. The state’s history of Republican leaders reaches back from Jim Douglas to Jim Jeffords, Robert Stafford, Richard Snelling, Deane Davis and George Aiken. It is a distinguished group for whom the current strains of radical conservatism would be anathema. That is a message that Chris Christie may have heard from Vermont Republicans, if he was listening, on his brief visit here.
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