^ the 2016 caucuses brought many people into a previously too small GOP, but it will onloy make the Massachusetts situation worse
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Ever since Bill Weld’s election in 1990, Massachusetts has elected only Republican Governors, with one exception, for very solid, institutional reasons unique to our state. So it was in 2014, when our voters chose Charlie Baker — narrowly, but Republican candidates for Governor have won by even less, and not that long ago. Until this year the likelihood was for this habit would continue well into the future. I no longer think so..
The rise of Trump has changed the entire mindset of Massachusetts Republican voters. Until Trump came into view, the majority of Massachusetts GOP voters were quietly conservative politically — not very ideological — but well aware that, to win, a GOP Governor candidate would need to be much less so; and said conservatives were willing to accept a Cellucci, a Romney, and a Baker rather than not have a GOP Governor at all. As recently as 2013, Gabriel Gomez — hardly a conservative; he voted for Obama in the 20123 election — won 51 percent in the primary of that year’s United States Senate race.
Yet the danger signs had not long to wait.
In the 2010 Republican race for Governor, the “tea party” candidate, opposing Baker, won eleven percent of convention delegates, falling short of the ballot. At the 2014 convention, an even more right wing candidate, with hardly any campaign money — a candidate who had no chance whatsoever of winning the election — secured enough votes to get his name onto the primary ballot. Earlier this year, Governor Baker, as a sitting Governor no less, moved to take control of the Republican state committee and won barely enough seats to do so. Opposed by right wing interest groups and talk radio hucksters, some of Baker’s candidates were beaten, including some seeking re-election. Finally, although Baker was able to get his candidate for national GOP committee woman elected, over a paid employee of a right-wing special interest group, the vote was far too close for comfort : 41 to 37.
All of this took place during the rise of Trump but prior to his becoming the presumptive GOP nominee for President. Since that time, Trump has taken over, and his sort of voter — angry, bigoted, nativist, heavy-handed and uninterested in political nuances — has taken over caucuses and overwhelmed a party grown very small and even non-existent in many parts of the state. During the controversy involving transgender civil rights and the chimera of bathroom crime, the newly repopulated Republican ranks have become a mob of ignorance and hate, of shameless smarm and dog whistle bitterness. I doubt that the noisy drool will smile upon Governor Baker signing the transgender civil rights bill that will pass the House overwhelmingly in a few weeks.
That mindset, of reckless negativity — of uninhibited vulgarity and rot-gut bigotry, and proud of it, no less — will almost surely become the norm for the many thousands of voters who have moved into the Massachusetts GOP : a party whose thin to non-existent corpus was easy to bulldoze. True, Governor Baker does have a solid following, of those who work in his administration and who value access to his staff and even to him; nor is his following small. But his following isn’t much benefit to the local GOP, as but much of it comes from outside the GOP. Baker’s huge war chest of money and his solid record in office will probably win him a 2018 primary: but a recent Suffolk University poll showed Baker’s favorable-unfavorable rating worse among Republicans than with any other major voter group.
Granted, that even among Republicans his numbers are 65 favorable to 16 unfavorable, easily good enough for 2018’s primary. But my guess is that, as Baker has stated clearly his unwillingness to support Trump, and given his quite reformist record in office, he stands very outside the mindset parameters of this seasons’ GOP voters. I think they realize it. By 2018 it can only get worse : while voters obsessed with defeat are flocking into the GOP, tolerant voters are leaving it. Just as many — of a demographic that has gotten older and older during 40 years of no replenish at all — are dying.
It’s hard now to recall that as recently as 1966, the Massachusetts GOP was the natural party of government, reformist in spirit, optimistic, honorable, and sometimes boldly innovative.
In Boston and surrounding communities, registering as a Republican has, for 30 years, been a statement of outsider status. If you vote in the Boston area and register as a Republican, you are barred from almost every election that takes place : in the Democratic primary. If you register as a Republican, you don’t choose a State Senator, a State Representative, a county officer. You almost certainly don’t choose a Congressman, nor any of the State’s Constitutional offices except Governor.
For 26 years, that one office has been enough to assure voters who register Republican that they have a significant, if outsider, part to play in the state’s governance. But what happens if the new majority of Republican voters dislikes state governance, period ? Adopts positions, and chooses candidates, that assure defeat by spitting on everything that most of our voters want ? Where does Karyn Polito, in 2022, find a path to a winnable nomination ? And if not Karyn Polito, who else has a better path ?
The Republican party in Massachusetts can NOT become the manipulated instrument of right wing talk show hucksters, anti-everything gripe-sters, and the intentionally out of it. It cannot become known for outrageous views that guarantee pariah status. But right now that’s exactly what it is becoming. It’s already almost impossible to have a sensible policy discussion with Massachusetts GOP activists. What could you say to a party 80 percent of whose legislators opposed last year’s $ 10 to $ 11 minimum wage hike that is supported by 80 percent of voters ? How can you talk about transgender civil rights, supported by two to one of our voters, when of five GOP State Senators, only one voted in favor ?
What future can there be for a political party that opposes what four out of five voters want ? Talk show hosts can do that, because they attract an audience by being outrageous, offensive, ugly. That’s how they gain attention and thus advertising dollars. But a political party cannot win elections by vulgar huckstering. Trump will soon find that out : but will his voters see it ? Probably not.
It will be a shame if Massachusetts’s Republican party collapses to tempest in a teapot infamy. All of the importantly serious policy debates — charter school cap lift, alternate energy sources, MBTA expansion, flood waters and climate control, housing expansion — are taking place within the Democratic party and its activists; other than they, only the Governor and his team participate, and when he does so, he does so well outside the inly-working, imploding GOP that seems set to end our era of GOP Governors.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere