Mass. Republican elected leaders decry Trump’s remarks

But state party officials remain silent

THE BAY STATE’S three most powerful elected Republicans have now each criticized President Trump to varying degrees for his recent racist exhortations, but other top members of the president’s party from Massachusetts would rather ignore it.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr on Tuesday both joined Gov. Charlie Baker in repudiating Trump for suggesting a group of liberal congresswomen who are black and brown should “go back” to where they came from.

“The President’s tweets over the weekend were disgusting, irresponsible and racially offensive,” said Jones, a North Reading Republican, in a statement. “His remarks were completely unacceptable and well below the dignity of the office he holds.”

Tarr was more measured in his criticism, but still made clear that he disapproves.

“Our nation needs and deserves civil and respectful discourse about the issues we face, and our strength depends largely on the respect we have for each other regardless of the place to which we trace our roots,” Tarr said. “Vigorous debate and differences of opinion have been important part of building our country, but criticism of someone’s lineage is destructive for our future and unacceptable.”

Trying to sow division between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a small but vocal group of four liberals, including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Trump made it sound like Pressley and the other congresswomen of color weren’t from the United States and had some other home country they should return to.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump tweeted.

Trump has flirted with racism many times before, but indulging in the racist idea that non-white people don’t belong in the United States and should “go back” to some other country has spurred a robust response that prior comments have not. Trump’s tweets may also have united House Democrats in Washington, who made plans to pass a resolution Tuesday condemning the remarks.

Baker, who sometimes avoids taking a firm position on controversial matters, on Monday said the president’s statements were “shameful and racist.”

While the Republican governor and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate each took stances in opposition to Trump’s line of attack, officials with top positions within the Massachusetts party apparatus itself stayed quiet. Massachusetts Republican Party chairman James Lyons declined to comment. Republican National Committee members Ron Kaufman and Keiko Orrall did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did Geoff Diehl, who was the party’s nominee for US Senate last fall.

Gabriel Gomez, who was the Republican nominee for US Senate in a 2013 special election, aired his disgust with Trump and his aides on Twitter.

“Media has a responsibility to call a spade a spade,” Gomez tweeted. “A racist should be called a racist and a liar should be called a liar.  @potus is both and much worse.  Same with his staff…”

Given the broad agreement about the racist nature of the president’s attacks, it’s easy to see why some Republicans would rather tune them out than take them on. To speak out against the president’s words could invite scorn from a core group of Republicans who prize loyalty to Trump over most other considerations. To try to defend them could be a perilous and morally degrading exercise, and potentially a fool’s errand. Trump has already shifted from saying he was unconcerned that people thought the tweets were racist to later insisting that they were “NOT Racist” and declaring, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body!”

Discomfort with the issue was evident when state Rep. Michael Soter, a Bellingham Republican first elected last year, fielded questions about the president’s statements on a sidewalk outside the State House on Tuesday afternoon.

“He controls himself and his own destiny. I don’t have any control of it. It’s not like I have a magic phone where I can call the president,” Soter said. “I don’t pay attention to his tweets. I don’t think they make sense. The stuff that sometimes he puts out there, doesn’t make sense.”

Soter, who declined to say whether he voted for Trump and whether he would support him in his re-election bid, repeatedly said he has not read the president’s tweets, but said in general he thinks it is important to call out racism.

“I think if anybody – whether you’re president of the United States, whether it’s me, whether it’s anybody – who talks about racism or anything that’s racist, as disgusting as racism – yes, you should speak up,” Soter said.  “If the president said something racist, it’s disgusting. It’s in his context of how he wants to interpret things. God bless him. I don’t have any part of that. He shouldn’t be doing it. If he did it, then he has to live with the consequences of it.”

In an impromptu interview he clearly would have rather avoided, Soter emphasized his work with Democrats, and his concern about the long overdue fiscal 2020 state budget, implying those are more worthwhile matters to him.

“I don’t think anybody should say anything, period. That’s what I think. Let’s just move on,” Soter said at one point.

But as the debate Tuesday over Trump’s remarks in the US House underscores, racism remains the one of the country’s most enduring social problems, one that many Americans think demands a response from political leaders and policymakers – and even more so when racist remarks are spread around by the most powerful official in the nation. Objections to the president’s rhetoric also dovetail with concerns about how the Trump administration has treated migrants and refugees, so it’s not just a question of style or character.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Baker and the two Republican leaders in the House and Senate have chosen to align with Trump’s critics, while other Republicans have chosen to remain silent on it, apparently hoping the furor will soon blow over.