For GOP, is the lesson be more like Charlie?
Everywhere else you look in state GOP, it’s very bad
MASSACHUSETTS REPUBLICANS suffered yet another electoral drubbing last week. Apart from Gov. Charlie Baker, every Republican candidate for statewide office got trounced by 24 to 46 point margins, based on unofficial returns. None of the congressional races were even remotely competitive. The legislative caucus shed three more members, further reducing their already paltry numbers. Republican US Senate candidate Geoff Diehl offered little competition to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, despite her often middling poll numbers. As the GOP tightened its grip on the corner office, pretty much every other office slipped through its fingers.
State level exit polling offered little reason for optimism, showing Massachusetts voters see the Republican party writ-large as not just out of touch, but scary. A full 66 percent said the way Republicans talk about politics these days is leading to increased violence, and 63 percent said Republicans place party over country. Pluralities say the Trump administration’s policies have made them less safe, despite Trump’s frequent emphasis on public safety. This helps explain why only 31 percent of the state’s voters view the Republican Party favorably.
Day-to-day national politics, which consumes most of the voters’ news bandwidth, amplifies the party’s problems. Just 31 percent of Tuesday’s voters approve of President Trump’s job performance, in an era when the party as a whole is increasingly tied to Trump. And Trump mattered in Massachusetts: two-thirds said he was a factor in determining their vote. He played very well in the primary here, but holds no broader appeal.
Voters give the national party dismal reviews on policy as well. Republicans’ key policy initiatives were mostly panned, with 65 percent against the border wall, 57 percent viewing the tax cut negatively, and most saying the Affordable Care Act should be left alone or expanded.
The MassGOP can point to the landslide reelection of Charlie Baker as a success. And yes, his 34-point margin is very impressive, as is his stratospheric 77 percent favorability on Election Day. But Baker, while claiming to endorse the party ticket, accomplished very little tangible for party candidates other than himself. His own campaign spent far more time talking about his relationships with members of the other party than his own. He only reluctantly said he planned to vote for specific GOP candidates after repeated questioning by the media and his Democratic opponent.
While Baker stands carved in marble astride the electoral Olympus, the Mass GOP twists in the wind far below. Other than governor, the party’s statewide candidates get routinely thumped. The state party platform holds little relevance. The legislative caucus has no power to enact it, and the governor has no interest in doing so. Republicans in the Legislature do not have the numbers to influence the legislative process, let alone act as an ideological counterweight to Beacon Hill Democrats. House Speaker Robert DeLeo guards what passes for the right flank of the state’s political establishment, working with the governor to chart a more conservative course on a range of policy matters.Maybe there is a future for the state’s Republican Party, where it functions as a force in elections and policy. Dousing the fire consuming the Republican Party’s national brand would be steps 1, 2, and 3. But with voters afraid of the party’s direction, opposed to its policy ideas, and down on most of its candidates, the road out of the electoral ash heap is a hard one.
Steve Koczela is the president of the MassINC Polling Group, which is a subsidiary of MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth.