Concern-trolling the Mass. GOP

It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that the Massachusetts Republican party just had a really, really bad election.  In addition to Massachusetts’s most famous Republican getting badly beaten by President Obama, they couldn’t prevent the Democrats from recapturing “the people’s seat” in the U.S. Senate, even though Scott Brown is still awfully handsome, they couldn’t pick up any congressional seats despite one incumbent who was plagued by scandal-tinged headlines for the entire cycle, and they lost seats in the state legislature, making the Democratic supermajorities in both chambers into super-duper-majorities.  They even lost two seats on the Governor’s Council.

When something like that happens, there is inevitably a lot of public and private soul-searching, and that’s exactly what’s happening inside the small but less-merry-than-usual band of Republicans here in the Commonwealth.  And, as one might expect, different people have different prescriptions for how the party should proceed.  Here are some of the most interesting:

  • RMGer “edfactor,” in a post provocatively entitled “The MassGOP … is dead,” argues that “[t]he Republican brand, on a national level, is now, obviously, completely incompatible with the mainstream political culture of this state.”  He continues:

    We are, at this point, a regional party with lots of problems, a brand that is toxic, little money, and not much to lift our spirits. As we are no longer viable statewide, it is clear that the party is dead….

    I think we need to talk about what coalitions will get behind Republican ideas before we talk about party registration numbers. I think we need to become much more inclusive. I think we need to be a lot more tech-savvy. I think we need to become much more about policy. I think we need to unfriend all of the angry voices in our party who build nothing. I think we need to sit down with the Young Republicans and College Republicans and ask them what they want from this country and what kind of Republican party will help them get there. I think we need, more than anything else, to distinguish ourselves from the national GOP.

    There will be much recrimination in the days to come. A lot of blaming the voters. A lot of people who always think that if we were just more conservative, people would vote for us. A lot of excuses around circumstances – such as the presidential turnout.

    But I think most of you know that there is something fundamentally wrong with the party at a national level, and especially in Massachusetts. We need to put everything on the table and figure out what it means to be a Republican in Massachusetts. That will take time. But we have time now.

    Provocative, to say the least. The ensuing comment thread is interesting and worth reading.

  • Partly as a direct response to edfactor’s post, Jeff Jacoby decried the “the endlessly-recycled nattering about the damaged Republican “brand” in Massachusetts, and how the GOP is doomed to keep losing until it rids itself of positions that are incompatible with the Bay State’s political culture. Invariably this comes down to a call for Republican candidates who are liberal on social issues, moderately conservative on fiscal issues, and generally eager to distance themselves from the national Republican Party. What the local GOP needs, one senior party official told me last week, are ‘more Weld Republicans.’”Jacoby disagrees. Rather, he thinks – hilariously, I might add – that what’s needed is “more ‘Fattman Republicans.’” Yes, he’s talking about Ryan Fattman, the lad whose principal accomplishment in the legislature was making national news by spewing absurd and offensive comments about rape before all the kool kidz in the GOP were doing it. And no, I am not kidding – that’s really what Jacoby thinks will reinvigorate the Mass. GOP. It’s especially bizarre because one of the only topics on which Jacoby holds moderately sane views is immigration – precisely the topic that caused Fattman to go entirely off the rails. So, moving on.
  • Holding views somewhat at odds with Jacoby’s is James Peyser, formerly of the Pioneer Institute and a veteran of several MA GOP administrations.  Peyser lays the across-the-board failure of Massachusetts Republicans this cycle squarely at the feet of the national party:

    It would be one thing if the GOP put up candidates who were way to the right of “mainstream” voters, but many of the Republican candidates in this election cycle were self-described moderates, some of whom supported such liberal touchstones as abortion rights and gay marriage.

    More important than ideological differences between the candidates was the burden GOP contenders carried by virtue of being affiliated with the national Republican Party. Even when individual candidates explicitly and repeatedly separated themselves from many of their Republican counterparts around the country, they were effectively tarred by their opponents as stalking horses for the leaders and factions that have become the GOP’s brand, which is deeply unpopular in this corner of the country.

    Peyser goes on to argue that the problem isn’t conservatism per se, but rather the fact that “the Republicans who increasingly define the party are not perceived as being serious about addressing the country’s fundamental problems,” and further that “too many voices of the Republican Party and conservative talk radio have adopted a harsh tone that is disrespectful, at best.” He concludes that “[i]f New England Republicans are going to revive their prospects in federal campaigns, they need to create some space between themselves and the national GOP, not just as individual candidates, but as state parties. As a first step, Republican parties in New England should adopt platforms addressing national policy, making clear distinctions with the platform adopted this summer in Tampa and framing their own brand of Yankee conservatism.”

  • Interesting, the Mass. GOP just took a rather confusing move that was maybe intended to be in that direction, though it’s hard to be sure. Remember how, a few weeks ago, the state party put off deciding whether to adopt the national GOP’s exceedingly harsh platform as its own? Here’s what happened next:

    The Massachusetts Republican Party State Committee voted Tuesday night to adopt Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s presidential platform, in addition to the existing state party platform.

    The committee rejected a move to adopt the national Republican Party platform, which was created by the Republican National Committee.

    OK, so they rejected the national platform, but they adopted Mitt Romney’s. Here’s the problem: there’s no such thing as a Romney platform. Per the article linked above,

    [t]here is no official Romney platform document, but the state committee vote expressed confidence in Romney’s general ideas – particularly his focus on fiscal policy, such as lowering taxes and rolling back regulations. Romney did speak about social issues, particularly during the Republican primary, but they were not the focus of his campaign. For example, Romney opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants.

    Unfortunately for the state party, it took this peculiar action before Romney completely self-destructed on a conference call, whereupon most of the GOP establishment threw Romney under the nearest oncoming bus (one historian quipped that Romney “is now a toxic asset to unload”). Consequently, the state party now finds itself having adopted a platform that (1) has no content, and (2) is associated with the least popular Republican in the United States. Another triumph for Bob Maginn.

  • Of course, there are those who remain staunchly of the view that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.  If only our leaders were more pure; if only they didn’t feel the need to appeal to moderates; then they surely would have won.  RMG’s proprietor Rob Eno appears to be one of those, at least judging from this post in which he quotes at length, and with apparent approval (“it’s spot on”), a letter that was originally posted at Legal Insurrection addressed to “Republican Establishment,” and signed “The Conservative Grassroots, AKA Tea Party, 912, Liberty, precinct Republicans, silent majority Americans.”  Rob prefaces the quote by arguing that “a mistake Scott Brown made is attacking the base. The incessant I love Planned Parenthood ads turned off many people I know.” You can imagine most of the content of the letter itself; here’s an excerpt:

    Stop hanging Akin & Mourdock around our neck. We didn’t know they didn’t understand how conception works. You didn’t know that the word “macaca” was part of George Allen’s vocabulary, either. And you didn’t blame him for the loss of the House and Senate in 2006. Interestingly, you put him up again this time around. We might make mistakes, but we don’t make them twice. So stop the scapegoating, please….

    We lost because we did not present bold colors, big ideas that could inspire a nation to join us….

    The grassroots will fix this for you. Please stay out of our way. And don’t do anything stupid like granting citizenship to 15m illegals. We have to persuade Hispanics they are conservatives who belong in the GOP, just like that County GOP Chairman in New Mexico did with Susanna Martinez. We win Hispanics by persuading them that conservatism, that free enterprise rather than entitlement, is the path to the American Dream of individual liberty and prosperity….

    You cannot win without your base.

    You cannot win by attacking your base.

    Ok. Enough. We will not harp on it any more. You can poke us all you want. From here on, we’re working on 2014. And 2016.

    We hope you will join us. And LISTEN.

    The really hilarious part is begging not to be blamed for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (and, presumably, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell – that’s four Senate seats right there), when of course that is precisely where the blame should lie.

  • Finally, some focus almost exclusively on infrastructure. More people need to come to town committee meetings; more people should write letters to the editor; we need a better GOTV machine like the one John Walsh built. All of that would help, but I’d respectfully question whether it will ever happen given the current state of the product the MA GOP is selling.

What would you do?


19 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. How likely is the national GOP...

    … to listen to the MA GOP, given that their losing nominee was from MA?

  2. I wish they'd get their shit together

    Also that they in getting their shit together were also interested in GOVERNING when/if they get elected. #1 reason their brand is damaged is that they refuse to fucking govern when they get there.

    The state, and the country, needs a good, solid, SANE and loyal opposition party. Even with a supermajority, I want to be challenged to be even better as a party Democrat.\

    That said, it’s not my damned job to do their jobs for them. You’re on your own, kids. You should love that – you do love an “ownership” society after all.

  3. The Republican Party went wrong a long time

    ago. It’s not going to come back soon. It divested from reality and polluted itself with wingnuts. They will not change. The Party is composed of people heavily invested in the Far Right, its TV network, its think tanks, its publishing outlets, and interest groups. Reasonable Republicans–the regular folks that I know, for example–have no choice but to swim in the cess pool of the national GOP. Its inevitable that they drink some of it in.

    If the Democratic Party had been co-opted by the Communist Party, it would have said the something like this” Paul Weyrich said it best: “We are different from previous generations of conservatives… We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.”

  4. The Mass GOP is really the Romney GOP

    Scott Brown was always Mitt Romney’s candidate. Indeed, Brown used Romney’s political team, including Eric Fehrnstrom.

    And, the Mass GOP is led by Robert Maginn, a Romney loyalist who was formerly with Bain. Ultimately, the money for the Mass GOP comes through Romney.

    So, the future of the Mass GOP is linked to Romney’s future in politics. If Romney finally retires from politics, it might be possible for this state to have a real republican party.

    • Short term and long term

      Retreating to Weld Republicanism isn’t necessarily the answer. Tisei, a Weld Republican in the legislature anyway even if he endorsed the national party in his general election (a DUMB move IMO), didn’t win and neither did the socially liberal Charlie Baker. Its also offering up new ideas and less of the same. The Democratic party lost three presidential campaigns in a row by offering up tired defenses of the New Deal and Great Society and simply running on more government. Clinton, and to a lesser extent Obama, have run on better government, more empathetic government, outside of the “more or less government” argument.

      Republicans nationally, and Massachusetts ones in particular, need to find a vision that empathizes with the common person and their struggles and proposes innovative policy ideas to solve them. Jack Kemp, James Q. Wilson, even Buckley had great policy ideas during their day that were outside of the box yet still conservative policy prescriptions. Kemp was the last Republican who even bothered to use conservative urban policy ideas. Now the GOP has actually demonized cities in its platform. Not a winning strategy in an increasingly urban society.

      Stop slicing and dicing the country and show up everywhere, get the vote across, and build grassroots centered ideas campaigns. David Frum and Douthat seem to get that, and Huntsman did in his ill fated campaign. I still think his banking reform idea was incredibly innovative. Democrats also elect candidates that take on their party’s establishment in one way or another. Clinton was tough on crime and wefare, Obama was tough on the Clintons and teachers unions. Republicans can’t do that and thus never seem principled. Americans don’t like electing apartchiks. Christie could be an interesting candidate since he has been more measured on social and foreign policy while enacting entitlement reforms without trying to destroy unions. Rubio, on immigration and foreign policy, could be plausibly centrist. Jeb Bush has a ton of interesting ideas. So they have some, though not many, figures and candidates to rally around. But as long as the party strives to be anti-intellectual it will consistently destroy its intellectual capital and immolate.

  5. Ironically, a problem for Republicans now is that

    They’ve been so successful shifting the political spectrum to the right that any “centrist, moderate” policies look to be Democrats’. The Republican hysteria over “Obamacare” – a program that essentially strengthens the private insurance system -is one of countless examples of the GOP going ballistic over centrist approaches to problem-solving.

    Massachusetts voters are open to the idea of a centrist Republican, precisely because a one-party system can lead to abuses, no matter what party is in control. Absolute power and all that. Hence 16 years of Republican governors.

    Scott Brown might have tried the argument: If you want a more sane, reasonable opposition Republican party, you need to vote for some Republicans who are moderate. Problem is, you can’t claim to be moderate if you sign the Norquist no-more-taxes-ever pledge and vote for the Blunt amendment. And you can’t openly reject the national Republican agenda while still seeking campaign funding and other help from the national Republican political establishment and base.

    It will be tough for Republicans to appeal to Mass voters as reasonabe centrists/pragmatists without rejecting the current national GOP agenda.

  6. I ain't buying it

    The GOP will do just fine. In fact, they’ll win seats in the SOTUS in 2014, and I expect the House as well. They held most of their massive 2010 gains at state legislatures, and even gained a governor’s mansion this go-round.

    The GOP is not in trouble. They’ll have a hard time winning POTUS if they can’t move the rust belt their way, but the fact of the matter is that there are lots of states in the US of A who prefer the 2012 GOP to the 2012 Dems. I’m not just talking about EVs here, I’m talking about state party level and members of the House.

    The fight for the political majority is going to run through places like Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. Demographic changes aren’t quick in these parts and, as a region, it’s not losing population too quickly either. Frankly, I think that if the GOP would lighten up on the unions that they’d be able to further their anti-abortion, anti-social-services agenda nationwide, precisely because they’d be in much better shape throughout the rust belt. If they can peel off some EVs there, they’ll turn the entire region red, instead of a continuum of red at the lowest levels of government to blue at the highest levels.

    • I believe this post's point was the *Mass* GOP, not national

      I too am skeptical of writing off the national Republican party because of one bad election. I know too many liberals who did that in 2008, and ’10 didn’t work out all that well for the Democrats. However, that’s a different issue from the problems of the Massachusetts Republican party.

      The current GOP brand is pretty toxic to candidates running for Congress in Mass. It might be easier to shake off for a gubernatorial candidate, but said candidate would have to make it pretty clear (s)he disavows the Republican national platform.

      • Exactly right.

        This post is not in the slightest about the national GOP, except to the extent that the national GOP “brand’ affects the MA GOP’s ability to win elections. I’m interested specifically in what changes the MA GOP expects to consider going forward.

    • National prospects

      The current status is that we have significant gerrymandering at the state level that is likely to entrench Republican power for years. If Republicans make all states vote the way Nebraska does, it could be a while, too, before we see another Democratic President.

      The balance of power seems to be that during Presidential elections, enough Democratic voters will show up to swing the results; on mid-term elections, Republicans are likely to dominate — unless, as in 2006, they really screw up governing.

      Another potential is that billionaire Republican donors may figure out how to make better use of their money than they did this cycle.

      Nonetheless, the demographic argument, though, seems pretty strong to me. The Republican core is being held by a conservative entertainment complex (Fox + talk radio) that will keep them tethered to their current brand of moralistic-sounding no-nothingism. The Tea Partiers will act as enforcers. You might remember Fox’ explicit support of the Tea Party movement. Given that, demographic changes just are not good for the GOP at all. The Hannity/O’Reilly/Limbaugh view of the world will never appeal to the groups that are growing.

  7. Barbara Anderson thinks Bill Weld is the Answer.

    In a rambling editorial in today’s Eagle Tribune Babs, after a rant about Libertarians and quoting both John Walsh and George Washington, gets to this:

    I actually have a proposed plan for election 2014 in Massachusetts, will get to the national problem later.

    Bill Weld is moving back, some say to run for U.S. Senate again. This works for me, if that’s what he wants, but Barbara’s Plan reflects the year he became governor, when Ray Shamie was a strong chairman of the state Republican Party and presided over substantial victories. I would ask Bill Weld to become chairman, giving the GOP the face of a fiscal conservative/social liberal like Scott Brown and Richard Tisei, both of whom would run again. Since we know Bill likes to delegate details, he sets the campaign themes and works with the media, while Peter Torkildsen moves into the job of political director.

    So on the 2014 ballot, we have Scott Brown for U.S. Senate; Richard Tisei for Congress in the 6th; other Weld-Republicans running in other congressional districts. Charlie Baker runs for governor again, with Karyn Polito for lieutenant governor. The best of this year’s Republican legislative candidates give it another try, now part of a coordinated Weld-Republican effort. Social conservatives will be encouraged only if they stop beating the dead election issues of abortion/gay marriage and get serious about the national debt and the fiscal problems of Massachusetts, more serious than presently admitted.
    Jerry, look, there’s hope! Revolution 2014.

    When the MassGop can win -twice- running a serial tax cheat and anti-choice zealot like Jimmy Lyons, I’m not sure Babs is correct that just by pretending “abortion/gay marriage” aren’t core issues they can win over the electorate.

    • Link to the above edirorial:

      Click here.

      • Not buying it

        Weld will continue to lead the life of an ensconed establishment New Yorker for quite some time, he just got hired by another New York firm so I expect him to stay there. A Kerry/Weld rematch would be lame for a variety of reasons, especially the carpetbagger charge and the fact that Kerry wouldn’t have his heart in it. If Tisei couldn’t beat Tierney this year he won’t be able to be competitive next cycle, especially if Dems are smart and retire Tierney to keep the seat safe. Statewide the Republicans would be smart to run a good crop of moderate candidates for Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and Governor while running more Dan Winslow/Bob Hedlund types locally for state level races. You could also run competitively against Keating (most Romney friendly part of MA) and Tsongas. I just don’t see it happening though, their bench is too thin.

        • Bill Weld

          is so far past his sell-by date, he’s got fuzzy green stuff growing on him. The notion of him running for any public office in MA strikes me as utterly laughable. Though Barbara might be onto something with the idea of him running the Mass. GOP – he could hardly do a worse job than either of the last two jokers.

          • Babs is a joke too

            Has she had any victories since Prop 2 1/2 in the 80s? It’s also funny her proposals to make the GOP relevant again involve two candidates who just lost and a candidate who hasn’t lived here since 1999, oh and invoking a radio host no one under 50 remembers (I only know since dad told me who he was).

        • Where did you hear this?

          he just got hired by another New York firm so I expect him to stay there

          Weld just joined Mintz Levin’s Boston office a few weeks ago. They’re a Boston-based firm. I haven’t seen anything about him jumping back to New York to join anyone else.

  8. It's not like the GOP was especially competitive pre-2012

    I guess what I don’t understand is… why didn’t the GOP have a house-on-fire urgency pre-2012? Pre-2010, 2008, 2006, … [long time]?

    Sure, they have a somewhat recent history of nabbing the governor’s office, and managed to induce a more conservative Democratic legislative leadership as recently as last decade. But when was the last time they had?
    * A majority in the house?
    * A majority in the senate?
    * A treasurer?
    * An AG?
    * A SOS?
    * > 1/3 in the house?
    * > 1/3 in the senate?
    * a majority of Governor’s Councillors?
    * a single member of the US House?
    * the majority of US House members?
    * a single member of the US Senate (pre-Brown’s special election)?
    * both members of the US Senate?

    It’s not like the GOP has had anywhere near parity in Massachusetts for a long, long time. Is 2012 really all that different from 2010 or 2006 or 1998 or 1988 for that matter for the GOP? I don’t really know the answer, but it would be interesting to get the last 100 years of data for the national legislative offices, constitutional offices, and legislature for MA and plot the GOP’s “power level” in each.

    • Over the last 100 years

      the GOP was quite strong in Mass. at times. The Yankee GOP dominated the state from Civil War days until the Irish got enough political power to compete. This happened much earlier in the city of Boston but took longer at the state level. In essence, the Mass. GOP was strong into the 1950s but, since JFK was elected President, has largely been shut out of power except the governor’s office. That’s 50 years, pretty long.

      From 1947 to 1978, when Ed Brooke went down, the GOP did have at least one of the two Senate seats (from 1947 to 1953 they had both). Prior to the Weld through Romney stretch of Republican governors, they held that office about half the time (e.g. Saltonstall, Herter, Volpe, Sargent). In the early 50s the GOP Speaker of the House (US House) was Joe Martin of Attleboro. For the first half of the 20th century the GOP held at least half the U.S. House districts. Democratic dominance of the Mass. House delegation, as I recall, really dates from the 1960s.

      The GOP controlled the Mass. House from the Civil War until 1948. Since 1948, the Dems have held the majority in all but 1953-54. Except for one year (1949), the GOP held the Mass. Senate from the Civil War through 1958, and the Dems since. Note that the Mass. Senate (like most State Senates) used to give rural areas disproportionate representation. A 1961 Supreme Court case (Baker v. Carr) prohibited that, boosting Dem fortunes here.

      2012 seems different only in that it put the exclamation point on their situation. Their one huge victory – Scott Brown – was snuffed out, their best hope for a U.S. House pickup, Tisei, fell short in the end, and they managed to make a 33-127 deficit in the Mass. House even worse while making no progress on their 4-36 deficit in the Mass Senate.

    • I had some time so I figured I'd do it your way

      Terms that ended in the first days of January are listed as ending the previous year, which was the last full year in office.

      * A majority in the house? 1954
      * A majority in the senate? 1958
      * A treasurer? 1998 (Joe Malone)
      * An AG? 1968 (Elliot Richardson)
      * A SOS? 1949 (Frederic Cook)
      * > 1/3 in the house? Sometime before 1990
      * > 1/3 in the senate? 1992 (16 of 40)
      * a majority of Governor’s Councillors? A long time
      * a single member of the US House? 1996 (Blute and Torkildsen)
      * the majority of US House members? 1958 (7 of 14); outright majority 1954 (8 of 14)
      * a single member of the US Senate (pre-Brown’s special election)? 1978 (Brooke)
      * both members of the US Senate? 1952 (Saltonstall and Lodge)

      A pretty bleak picture for the Mass. GOP.

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