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Vaccine policies lead a NH legislator to leave the Republican Party

A GOP New Hampshire legislator this week switched to the Democratic Party over vaccine policies. It's a piece of a larger puzzle.

In New Hampshire, William Marsh, a retired physician, has served as his community's health officer for 20 years. He's also an elected state representative and part of the legislature's Republican majority.

At least, he was. The NBC affiliate in Boston reported this week that Marsh decided to switch parties.

A New Hampshire lawmaker on Tuesday switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat due what he says is the Republican House leadership's anti-vaccine stance. "I cannot stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks," Rep. Bill Marsh of Brookfield said in a statement.

"I have come to realize a majority of Republicans, both locally and in the New Hampshire House, hold values which no longer reflect traditional Republican values," his statement added. "And so I am recognizing the reality that today's Republican Party is no longer the party I first joined when campaigning for President Reagan many years ago."

The lawmaker told the local NBC affiliate that the last straw was a Republican event in New Hampshire this week in which GOP leaders denounced President Joe Biden's new vaccine initiative.

Marsh also told The Washington Post that he believes Republican radicals are pushing remaining moderates out of the party, a point that was driven home by the party's hostility toward health precautions during the pandemic.

"It's not in the interest of the public to allow Covid to spread in New Hampshire as it has in Florida," he told the newspaper. "I'm a doctor first, so I stood up for my patients and said, 'I'm done with this.' And I left."

To be sure, it's generally unwise to inflate the significance of a story like this one too much. Marsh was not a member of the legislature's leadership; his shift in partisan allegiance did not flip control of the chamber; and before this week, it's fair to say he did not have a national public profile.

That said, I think this is a piece of a larger puzzle. Republican leaders nationwide have decided to position the party as one that's overtly hostile to policies that would help end the pandemic. They've done so in large part because the GOP base has left the party with little choice.

The results extend well beyond rhetoric. Republicans in California, for example, launched a gubernatorial recall election that was based largely on Covid-19 safeguards and protections. GOP officials who assumed they could capitalize on public frustrations eventually learned that there are a whole lot of voters who care far more about ending the pandemic than Republican activists do.

It's not just California. The more Republican politicians argue that there's broad public opposition to vaccine policies such as those pushed by the Biden White House, the more national polling tells a different story.

And yet, the problem persists. The Associated Press, relying on a Kaiser Health News review, reported yesterday, "Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases."

If the party is assuming mainstream voters will be impressed, the GOP is likely to be disappointed. Just ask New Hampshire's William Marsh.