Nassour and Mermell talk politics across the partisan divide
“POLITICS, IDEAS & CIVIC LIFE IN MASSACHUSETTS” has been the tagline describing the focus of CommonWealth’s coverage since the magazine was launched 22 years ago. We didn’t say it explicitly, but the goal also was to promote a civil civic life here. A robust exchange of views and ideas, argued vigorously but respectfully, seemed then like an essential ingredient to maintaining a healthy body politic — and it still does today.
With today’s episode of The Codcast, two smart voices — from either side of the partisan divide — are joining that effort. Jennifer Nassour, the former chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, and Jesse Mermell, who served as communications director to Gov. Deval Patrick, plan to host regular installments of The Codcast, exploring issues, interviewing guests, and debating each other. Nassour is also a member of the board of MassINC, the corporate parent of CommonWealth.
The two women are particularly mindful of the challenge of engaging in civil discourse in what Nassour calls “this crazy political climate of 2018.” The goal of the podcasts, they say, is to “disagree agreeably.”
It’s made easier by the friendship they have struck up in the course of “sparring,” in Mermell’s phrasing, as analysts over the last several years on various media outlets. “We discovered that we actually like each other as people,” says Mermell.
That “does not mean the gloves won’t come off,” she says.
The obvious focus for the episode was last Tuesday’s primary election, which both of them had a direct role in. Nassour was finance chair for Beth Lindstrom’s losing bid for the Republican nomination for US Senate. Mermell had no official role in Ayanna Pressley’s winning campaign against US Rep. Michael Capuano, but Pressley is her closest friend in Boston, and she spent plenty of time offering counsel and advice.
Nassour’s take on Lindstrom’s loss and the strong showing by Senate primary winner Geoff Diehl, a strong Trump backer: “Primaries bring out people on the fringes.” (Separately, Gov. Charlie Baker stirred controversy last week by backing Diehl and the rest of the state’s GOP ticket in November.)
Nassour said she hopes the 100,000 votes for far-right gubernatorial candidate Scott Lively aren’t a sign that more Trump-aligned candidates will be emerging. “It’s not a winning strategy here in Massachusetts,” says Nassour.
She also lamented the fact that the GOP hasn’t been the most supportive place for women candidates — or party leaders. “I do think there definitely is a more misogynistic view on our candidates within the Republican Party,” she says. “Quite honestly, I got it as party chair. I can’t tell you how many people would come up to me at state committee meetings and ask, ‘Who’s watching your kids tonight?’”
Nassour says the party needs to get more voters who are not registered under any party label but lean toward the GOP — “closet Republicans,” she calls them — to vote in primaries.
As for the key to Pressley’s stunning victory over a 20-year incumbent, Mermell says it starts with the candidate herself. “She is talented in a way that no political consultant could ever teach a candidate to be,” she says. “That’s a natural thing that you have or you don’t.”
There were lots of other important elements to the victory, she says, including a talented campaign staff made up of lots of people who were not regulars in the constellation of political operatives, and some outside-the-box thinking, including a media strategy that included no traditional English language television advertising.
“There was a whole lot of appetite last Tuesday to buck the establishment,” she says.