REMAKING THE MASSSACHUSETTS GOP : OBSTACLES

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^ Governor baker with medical students committing to study addiction medicine. Now if he could only get them (and 200 like them) to run for office as Baker Republicans…

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Notice to readers : this article is Part 3 in a series that I have been posting for the past two weeks or so. To have my entire overview, you should to visit http://www.hereandsphere.com and read the prior two postings.

Because Governor baker has moved to take full control of the Massachusetts Republican state committee, it is appropriate to consider a long term campaign to remake the entire Massachusetts GOP, top to bottom, purpose and personnel. Whether Baker has such an ambitious climb in mind, I do not know. Yet Baker is not one for half measures. Once he decides that an institution of governance needs reform, he pursues reform from roof to basement and every flo0r in between; and because the Massachusetts GOP is small — only 11 percent of voters –those who might avoid a Baker reform don’t have many nooks in which to hide.

One might think that the local GOP’s smallness would offer Baker a clear field. Many party positions haven’t been filled in decades. Local GOP clubs long ago surrendered their charters. Party organization in general matters far less than it did 50 years ago — a majority of Massachusetts voters belongs to no party. Yet smallness has its difficulties too. A recent flap involving a former, briefly Polito operative who signed onto the Donald Trump campaign, thereby entangling Baker and his Lieutenant Governor in the Trump mess, exemplifies the challenge of smallness. It’s almost impossible for Baker or Lieutenant Governor Polito to have not encountered many operatives whose political bent, we now find out, is for the untouchable. After all, during the years 2007 to 2013, when the local GOP faced near extinction, activists and potential candidates reached out to whoever was there, just to survive. The politics of it was left for later.

That GOP politics was toxic already, was shown to all voters when at the beginning of 2014 the party’s state committee, whose members had been elected in 2012 at the nadir of the recent lean years, adopted a platf0rm rejecting marriage equality, spurning women’s reproductive rights, and asserting many economic positions anathema to a solid majority of Massachusetts voters.

Thus the decision by Baker to elect a much more representative state committee at next March’s primary.

“Much more representative means “elected by many more voters,” and at the level of a state committee election, the increase is achievable. Less so at the next level : actual candidacies for publicly elected office.

Everywhere I go, in eastern and central Massachusetts, the folks who turn out for events given by legislative candidates make clear just how far back our state’s GOP sits. Those who attend GOP candidates’ events are much older than those I see at Democratic candidates’ times, and almost exclusively 1960-ish white-bread, the squarest of the square, some of them touting fringe causes (fringe even in this year of GOP fringe fever).

From what I see, the typical GOP campaigner is at least 60 years old; whereas Democratic activists — multiple times more numerous — tend to be young, even very young. Many successful Democratic legislative campaigns are peopled by activists still in college, even in high school. And what a difference culturally ! At Democratic candidates’ headquarters you see lots of folks of all colors, hairstyles, genders — everything from dreadlocks and hardhats to suits and grunge. Meanwhile, at most GOP candidates’ headquarters — when there even IS a GOP candidate — I see clean-Gene, crew cut guys who look almost military; a handful of earnest girls; some very well-heeled, clubby women; and a ton of older — much older — true believers working their 20th losing campaign in a state of mind you’d expect of a 20th losing effort.

That’s what I see because that’s all there is. In Massachusetts, almost every young person who wants to get into politics signs onto a Democratic campaign, because they want to win — quite naturally. (Not always : the Susannah Whipps Lee campaign, in the 2nd Franklin State Representative District, was almost all young people. Good reason why she defeated her incumbent opponent by ten points. More about Whipps Lee later)

The few young people our state GOP does get come top it by way of the national GOP and its “conservative” ideology. They’re ill prepared for the realities of Massachusetts elections and oftener kill a campaign than help it. Baker, for all his power as a charismatic Governor, can do little, by himself, to change the population of new GOP voters. The national GOP overwhelms local messages, even a Governor’s. There is, however, one way that Baker can direct the composition of Massachusetts GOP voters : he can encourage young people to run for office and to do so as Baker Republicans.

He is popular enough to do that. If the young people he encourages do likewise, and recruit their friends, and friends of friends, as well as their district’s baker activists, they can, if there’s enough of them — 100 to 200 at least — assemble maybe 20,000 activists statewide (100 to 200 per campaign) : a number more than sufficient to create an entirely new, Baker GOP far outnumbering the present party and aged to outlast it.

20,000 is all that it takes. That’s about the same number as Elizabeth warren energized in her 2012 Senate campaign. It’s doable, by the nation’s most popular Governor, if he chooses to work it.

The Susannah Whipps Lee campaign I mentioned above is an example. Her cadre of “interns for Whipps Lee” was very young and — probably for that reason — waged a campaign effective energy par with the strongest Democratic platoons. Add Whipps Lee’s mainstream message 9at times even progressive), and the result was victory.

Jaclyn Corriveau, of Peabody’s 12th Essex District special election, appears to have a following similarly young and mainstream, supporting her because they like her, not t.o prove some ideological point.

Other than finding 100 to 200 campaigns like these, I do not see how the Massachusetts GOP can prolong its long streak of Governor wins or sustain its current legislative numbers, small as they are. 2016 is going to be a terribly difficult year for the 37 GOP legislators and 6 state GOP Senators having to win re-election in  the teeth of Hillary Clinton winning Massachusetts by 23 to 30 points. Given the outrageous venom of the national GOP: campaign so far, how many Massachusetts voters are going to “split tickets” to re-elect their local GOP legislator ? In the six to ten districts I see as vulnerable, maybe one third will have to do so. That’s hard to do even in polite election years.

If that sort of setback does cut the number of Massachusetts GOP legislators, how would Baker, even if he goes all in on the project, recruit win-oriented, ambitious young candidates who aren’t idelo0gically unelectable ? I do not know. Meanwhile, several associations of activist oriented to the national GOP’s toxic issue positions are gathering their own, in PACs and think tanks, to render undoable any such Baker mission as I have predicated. Meanwhile, the Democratic party is loaded with terrific down-ticket office holders looking to “move up” and excellently positioned to do so.

The Massachusetts GOP can probably continue to elect Governors, because the structure of o0ur state government, and the composition of its legislature, makes it far wiser to have a Governor who is not a Democrat. But other than Governor, the obstacles to creating a viable, populous, culturally representative GOP seem almost insurmountable. Baker has his hands full just shaping a GOP that can improve his own re-election rather than hinder it.

No Democratic candidate for high office wastes any effort on state committee elections. He or she doesn’t have to. Baker has to. That in itself should tell you just how daunting are the party-politics difficuolt8es that even he faces.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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