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'I Was Appalled': Former Gov. Jim Douglas On The Insurrection At The Capitol

Former Gov. Jim Douglas
Matt Rourke
AP File
Former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas spoke with VPR Friday about the insurrection by pro-Trump extremists in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

On Wednesday in Washington, D.C. hundreds, if not thousands of pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the certification of Joe Biden as President-elect. Five people have now died after the siege of the People's House.

Former three-term Republican Gov. Jim Douglas weighed in this week to share his reaction to the events, and what he sees for the party moving forward.VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with former three-term Republican Gov. Jim Douglas about the events, the actions of the president and other elected officials. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Listen to the full call-in special in which this segment originally aired at 9 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2021.

Mitch Wertlieb: So just a first thought out of the gate: What were you thinking? What were you feeling as you watched the events unfold on Wednesday?

Former Gov. Jim Douglas: Well, I couldn't believe it. It looked like capital in Caracas or Minsk or somewhere other than the United States of America. I was appalled at the scene that unfolded on Wednesday.

I think all Americans are, or ought to be. I hope we can find a way forward that will turn this tragic episode into something positive. And already I’ve seen reports online of some Republican U.S. senators regretting not pushing back against the president earlier in his tenure. So maybe if they start working together in a more constructive way, then than families like Colby’s and other Americans can engage once again with people of different points of view.

More from VPR: What Did Vermonters Make Of The Insurrection At The Capitol? Here's What You Said.

Gov. Douglas, have you been a supporter of Pres. Trump?

I didn't support him; I didn't oppose him. I focused over the last four years on supporting Phil Scott in his races for governor, and local candidates, but I stayed out of the presidential campaigns.

Well, that raises this question, because Gov. Phil Scott, as you know, has called for the, “resignation or removal of Trump from office.” Do you agree with him or disagree?

I think we can probably survive another 12 days. If this were earlier in the term, it might be a more important discussion.

The president now, after the joint sessions decision, has acknowledged the outcome of the election and pledged a peaceful transition. So I hope that will happen.

Well, to be fair, Governor, Pres. Trump has said a lot of things over the four years he's been in office and has gone back on a lot of those pledges, or promises or whatever you want to call them. I think the worry that some people have is: given what happened Wednesday, how shocking it was and how quickly it unfolded, in those 12 days, other things could happen.

I mean, if he remains president, he does still have the nuclear codes – I'm not saying he's going to start a war; I'm not saying this is going to happen – but can you envision a scenario where within these last 12 days, something happens that, given the authority he has as president, could be irrevocable?

Well, we can always envision them, I suppose. But my guess is that a lot of his subordinates are not going to follow orders that they believe are inappropriate.

The Republican Party has changed significantly since Trump became president. Do you feel like it is still the Republican Party or do you feel like it is the party of Trump?

Well, he's certainly been very dominant. After all, the president is the titular head of the party; no matter which party happens to be. And we've seen, over the last couple of years, Republicans losing primary contests or having very difficult times when they have run afoul of him. So he's been a very dominant force.

I think the question that a lot of us had was: Would he be going forward? Would he continue to hold rallies? Would he actually run again and in four years?

But I think the episode that we saw this week will contribute to a less-likely scenario along those lines.

I think people understand now that he's not someone we want to be playing a major role in the party, going forward. So I think in that strange way, it might have been helpful in terms of the Republican Party's future. At least, I hope so.

Governor, I'd like to play some tape for you now, because our colleague John Dillon pointed out that it was almost 20 years ago, in May of 2001 that Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, a lifelong Republican, stood before reporters in a hotel ballroom in Burlington and announced that he was leaving his party. Let's hear what he said then:

“In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience and principles I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent.”

- Former Vt. Sen. Jim Jeffords

That is former Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords saying, in effect, that he didn't leave the Republican party, the party left him. It's almost quaint now, isn't it, to think that Jeffords’ principled stand was over disagreements with Republican education funding and policy under then-President George W. Bush.

This crisis, Gov. Douglas – and the Republican Party now, after what happened Wednesday – this seems far more profound. Is it time for some lifelong Republicans to leave the party?

Well, I hope not, because the party is the collection of those who adhere to it. And I regretted Jim Jeffords’ decision nearly two decades ago. He knew that, and I said that it really weakens the centrism of our party when folks like Jim decide to leave. So, I hope not.

You know, everybody says that the president defines the party. And as I indicated, he is its titular head. But, Mitch, I've been a Republican for 70 years. Donald Trump's been a Republican for five. I don't accept the notion that he defines our party. So I think it's more important than ever that people who have been Republicans and those whom we can attract to our ranks continue to grow the Republican Party, so we can have a strong two-party system in our country.

More from VPR: 'The Doors Were Literally Being Battered Down': Rep. Peter Welch Describes U.S. Capitol Insurrection

Another point I'd make is that what you've asked really points out the increasing polarization of the nation. I'm very concerned about this. Blue states are getting bluer, red states are getting redder, and that contributes to the divisiveness and polarization that we're experiencing.

So I think everybody should take a deep breath and see if we can move past this, and get back to the kind of more collegial lawmaking and politics that we've known at points in our past.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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