The grassroots are withering

Across the proverbial aisle, that is.  The recent election of Kirsten Hughes to be Chair of the Massachusetts Republican party seems to have left a lot of local Republican activists baffled and disheartened – not because of any perceived shortcomings of Hughes herself, but because of how her election came about.  Hughes was former Senator Scott Brown’s candidate; she was one of his campaign staffers, and he endorsed her early on.  There is very little doubt that, but for Brown’s strong backing (he was reportedly working the phones hard for her election), she wouldn’t have had a chance and Rick Green would have been elected (as it was, Hughes won by the narrowest of margins – 2 votes out of 80 cast (41-39)).  And then, a couple of days later, having installed his preferred candidate to lead the party, Brown announced that he was not running for Senate, leaving the party in a state of near-total meltdown.

The news of Brown’s decision not to run did not play well with those trying to digest the results of Hughes’s election.

what the hell was last night [the GOP chair election] for? 41 people voted to give him [Brown] what he wanted and the next day, he says he’s not running? WTF? I bet if there was anyone who voted for Hughes out of fear Brown wouldn’t run could have their votes back now.

To which our friend Paul Ferro (of the Marlborough Republican Town Committee) responded:

The breath of the understatement of this comment … is jaw-droppingly Epic.

More broadly, consider this post from Evan Kenney, the teenager who became famous by beating Charlie Baker for a delegate slot to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and then being denied that slot by some highly questionable manipulation of the rules by pro-Romney forces within the GOP.  Kenney posted this on Red Mass Group after the election of Hughes.

I feel defeated

And it’s not because of Kirsten Hughes.

When I watched the chaos unfold last night over the “RG” contested ballot, my heart was broken. When [Mass GOP General Counsel] Vin DeVito looked at that room full of republican activists and defended his decision to discount that ballot, something inside of me died.

It was as if I joined this party for nothing, as if all of the apologies I accepted, all of the bridges I rebuilt, as if all of that was for absolutely nothing.

The difference between the incident in Tampa, and the feeling I have today, is that, in Tampa, I was genuinely confused for a little while. This morning, I am sincerely depressed. I am saddened. It is a unique and distinct kind of sadness.

The last time I felt this way was not on November 6th. No, the last time I experienced this feeling was on June 15th of this past summer, when I opened a letter informing me that I had been removed from the Massachusetts delegation to the Republican National Convention of 2012.

It’s getting really hard for me to defend my allegiance to this party, and that really does break my heart.

A fellow RMGer commented that “there are very many feeling exactly as Evan is feeling right now, and at many other various times in relation to this sort of treatment by the GOP.  To ignore it is to further disengage an already barely surviving party.”  Another says that he/she doesn’t know or care who is currently running the Mass. GOP, and advises that “you can lay the groundwork for a conservative/small government movement that the Massachusetts GOP should be doing (but is too lazy, fractionalized, agenda-less and otherwise f—ed up to do).”

It’s fair to say that Hughes has her work cut out for her, and that that work goes well beyond finding a plausible Senate candidate.

Nationally, today we read in the NY Times that the GOP’s big national donors are launching a concerted effort to fend off challenges to “establishment Republican candidates.”

In effect, the establishment is taking steps to fight back against Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations that have wielded significant influence in backing candidates who ultimately lost seats to Democrats in the general election.

If I were a national Republican power broker, I’d be worried too about people like Richard Mourdock, Christine O’Donnell, and Sharron Angle, all of whom lost eminently winnable races because, basically, they were not remotely ready for prime time.  And yet, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz won Senate elections, so one is hard-pressed to say that extremely conservative candidates can’t win.  And I would be really, really worried about setting up an internecine battle pitting the big-money establishment types against the grassroots, who tend to be more conservative.  Disagree with them if you want, but if the grassroots stay home, you can’t win an election.  And it seems to me that an excellent way to encourage the grassroots to stay home is to set up a big-money, Washington-based PAC to squash them with the apparent blessing of the national party.

So, whither the Republican grassroots, both here and around the country?  I don’t know … what do you think?


14 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. The GOP's grassroots

    will continue to reside with wingnuts. Ninety percent of the GOP is white. It is increasingly older. It will have to change, die along with its voters, or hobble along with the crazies that are willing to support it. The crazies are easily manipulated and the big money will continue to astroturf them.

    They’ll still have the business interests, but as the Democrats take more power, they’ll spend more money undermining the liberality of the Democratic Party.

    Increasingly, selling Republican ideas will go the way of selling encyclopedias.

    • Consequence of their actions

      The GOP’s grassroots will reside in the wingnuts because of the fertilizer being applied. Conservatives are being rallied from above with media like talk radio, Fox News, etc., and the nature of that rallying is emotion-based and, very often, the rationale given is nonsense because the people running the show conceal their real motives. Why is anyone surprised when their grass roots shows up at meetings, disheveled and spouting incoherent positions?

      Have you seen that meme of the “liberal college student” girl who gets mocked up supporting liberal positions that are hypocritical, like “thinks corporations all evil, spends every morning at Starbucks”? There should be one for grass-roots Republicans – I can picture one saying “Thinks people on food stamps are lazy and fat. Gets angry when people buy fresh fruits and vegetables with food stamps”. Or maybe “thinks that it is a terrible crime to vote impersonating someone else. Gets arrested trying to prove that it can be done”.

  2. In the last year...

    …this has been the third major internal battle within the MA GOP. Maybe pundits should crank up the descriptive from: internecine rivalry to civil war?

    Last March many established GOP State Committee members were defeated by this grassroots coalition made up of libertarian and social conservatives. Fearing the insurgents were going to oust a long-time RNC Committeewoman, the establishment put up Kerry Healy and beat back the rebel candidate for RNC Committewoman.

    Then in May, at the caucuses to elect RNC Delegates, the establishment was once again caught by surprise and many establishment GOP figures were denied these coveted slots. Of course, by definition, the establishment writes and controls the rules. So from May to August the establishment counterattacked with the anti-democratic force only lawyers are able to muster (no offense to the esteemed author of this post) and ousted most of the rebels legitimately elected in May.

    And now this battle / fiasco. I disagree that this is a sign of any kind of “withering” by either the grassroots or the establishment. While it is audacious to suggest these are harbingers of a national breakup on the GOP, it does parallel the schism we are seeing nationally.

    No I don’t see either side “withering”, rather I see the likes of Paul F., Rob E and his roommates (and landlord) upping the ante with increasingly divisive tactics against an increasing besieged establishment. And we got great seats to the game!

  3. "Conservatism" is a failed ideology

    No grass can grow in toxic soil — the “grassroots” don’t matter.

    The “conservative” ideology that has defined the GOP since the Goldwater era (I can’t think of “Liberal Republican” since Rockefeller or perhaps Lowell Weicker while he was a Republican) has failed. It failed because it doesn’t work.

    If the GOP is to survive, it must break the GOP/Conservative equivalence. Its problems don’t stop with with racism and sexism, though it displayed those in spades in the last election. By virtually EVERY measure, GOP policies have hurt rather than helped the economy. The GOP answer is to double-down on them, rather than recognize that “ideas” and “vision” that *don’t work* are rightly rejected. A party who claims to be “the party of opportunity” and whose policies resulted in historic levels of wealth concentration is a party that is *delusional*.

    Lowering taxes do not create jobs. Starving the government only disables it. There are things that people cannot do for themselves, and those things are what government is for.

    The GOP as we have known it since Goldwater is rightfully dead.

  4. Possible danger to the GOP

    Trouble is that those guys have elevated purity quite high. I’d be surprised if there is a Republican Senator not named Collins who will say she or he is a moderate. This is poses severe challenges for the mainstream Republican brand.

    The conservative entertainment industry has a strong interest in pushing for purity. Less than livid conservatives might turn the channel from Fox. Insufficiently frightened conservatives won’t buy gold coins or contribute to Rove.

    The result is a significant clash of interests: the enragés versus the plutocrats. If the split grows wider, the GOP could lose a lot of viability.

  5. I'm still trying to figure out Scott Brown thought process

    in pushing his candidate to chair the state party and then announcing the next day that he’s not running for Senate this cycle. Was it simply loyalty to Hughes, and he didn’t think about how angry the timing would make people? Or he knew but didn’t care? Does he want her there for a run he’s planning in ’14? Puzzling.

    • he doesn’t strike me as a guy who spends a lot of time thinking through what the consequences of his actions might be.

    • Caprice

      I think we may be overthinking Brown’s thought process. I think it is rather because he, like Romney, sees the party as little more than an arm of himself, his political cult within the party, and his campaign. Brown was utilitarian about the party and while he was always going to be Republican, he really did not see it for the people who are behind it, and like any political organization, make it possible. That is part of the reason why he failed last year (see Scott Lehigh’s column from last week) and why he would set up his candidate to lead the party and then leave both her and the party in the lurch while he goes and does something else. It is indifference, not strategy that is guiding him. The consternation of the party did not enter his thinking before and almost guaranteed to have little impact after.

  6. Could the MA GOP cobble together some disparate groups?

    The GOP in the Southeast ties together Main Street, Wall Street, and Evangelical Christians.

    Massachusetts doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of numbers for Evangelicals. Grabbing Catholics to take their place is a challenge because many Massachusetts Catholics have more liberal viewpoints on war, on poverty, even on abortion.

    So how can the MA GOP grab a third group — the kind who have energy, are willing to work, and have youth on their side? Here’s this liberal’s suggestion:

    * Embrace libertarianism. Big time. That means:
    — Give up on gay marriage. Take a principled stance that the GOP has no interest in your bedroom, and that all adults have the right to suffer through marriage.
    — Support clean, clear environmental regulations.
    — Oppose the war on drugs.
    — Oppose the wars overseas and an overzealous police state.

    The idea is to try and grab potential youngsters who simply don’t identify with 20th century culture wars. That means small government, not law and order government, not Leave it to Beaver government, and not corporate overlord government.

    Can the GOP do that without losing the Wall Street funding and the Main Street voters who are 50+ and vote reliably? I have no idea.

    • Could the GOP do that, period?

      I think the hard core will give up on all that anti-marriage crap, and all the other things you mention, when the electorate pries if from their cold, dead fingers.

      • Well, not the national GOP --

        at least, not soon. But look, it’s not as if rank and file Democrats were actively pro-marriage ten years ago. People evolve, as does culture.

        I really do think the libertarian folks (small L) have an opportunity to steer the New England Republican parties toward their values, and I just don’t think it would be that hard to do. Libertarians and young Republicans, working together, could really change the rhetoric of the state parties. Does it matter at the end of the day? I don’t know — Democratic legislators don’t exactly parrot the state platform in unison. Why would the few dozen GOP state legislators parrot their modified state platform?

        • Agreed

          Bob Hedlund is about my older brothers age and is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I could see him picking up a lot of support with his rock n roll Republican image. The problem is finding younger engaged people like that and getting them to run. I think there is a lot of room to run to the right locally on law and order and taxation, and on certain urban policy issues like school choice, public sector unions, and patronage. The Cook County Republican party made a run at that image a few years ago and nearly won the Cook County Presidency and got a decent number of commissioners elected simply by running as a clean government alternative to the Machine.

          It doesn’t even need to be Paultard libertarianism with its foreign policy and gold standard obsessions, but Jack Kemp conservatism mixed in with some Dennis Leary libertarianism and some really tough law and order platforms (that would include moderate gun control). A decent number of friends I grew up with in Cambridge were Gary Johnson supporters, as are some of my brothers older friends who are around Hedlunds age and now live in the Metrowest exurbs. Focusing on pocket book isses and local concerns is the key. The irony is the local GOP (based on RMG anyway) seems to be split even worse than the national GOP.

          • The GOP *must* run left, not right

            The GOP has already run as far to the right as it can.

            It has already picked up as many young voters as it will, and those aren’t enough. Young voters who care enough about politics to participate are positively alienated by the GOP postures on the climate change, wealth concentration, women’s issues, GLBT issues, racism, and the role of government.

            I think the ONLY way the GOP can grow, especially nationally, is to reverse its move towards the right and run leftward instead.

    • Hmmm

      Interesting recipe. But I think the problem is that combo gets you some votes, but not the money to turn it into a plurality. You go from a party with far more money than votes to a party with far more votes than money. Neither combination works.

      sabutai   @   Mon 4 Feb 8:59 PM

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