Regardless of how the government shutdown debacle ends, or how the formerly routine business of raising the debt ceiling plays out, the Republican Party’s irresponsible actions threatening both the American economy and system of government may cause it to pay a price politically. That won’t happen in tea party havens, but in Massachusetts and New England, where old school Republican moderates were once plentiful and influential, the actions in Washington could strike a severe blow to a party that is already reeling.
There are no New England Republicans left in the House of Representatives, as all 19 House members from the region are Democrats. New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Maine’s Susan Collins are the only New England Republicans left in the Senate. The traditional fiscally conservative, socially liberal New England Republican willing to work with Democrats to improve their state, region and nation is increasingly unwelcome in the Republican Party, and the divisive, extremist politics of the GOP’s tea party faction doesn’t play well in this section of the country.
There will be a U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts in 2014 -- as there seems to be every year -- and Democrat Edward Markey will attach the shutdown and debt ceiling threat to whatever candidate the Republicans put up against him. Mr. Markey effectively tied Republican challenger Gabriel Gomez to the obstructionist politics of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in winning this year’s special election even without the benefit of the GOP’s October embarrassment.
Massachusetts’ nine Democratic congressmen, including the 1st District’s Richard Neal, will immediately pin any challengers to the juiciest target of all in House Speaker John Boehner, who triggered the shutdown by failing to find the courage to stand up to his rabid tea partiers. Sixth District Congressman John Tierney, embroiled in controversy about family business dealings, facing a moderate Republican in Richard Tisei, and ripe to be defeated, still squeezed out a victory by tying Mr. Tisei to Mr. Boehner and the Republican-controlled House.
Even candidates in next year’s state races may be stained by the national GOP. Charles Baker, running again for governor, tried to pretend he was an angry tea partier in 2010 and lost to incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick. He has acknowledged his mistake and will try to run in the mold of two popular recent Republican governors, William Weld and the late Paul Cellucci, who worked with Democrats and avoided extreme stands on social issues. Voters, however, have fresher memories of Republican Governor Mitt Romney, the faux-moderate who mentally checked out two years into his one term to run for president as an "extreme conservative."
Republicans hold no state offices and are barely a presence in the Legislature, leaving the party with no bench. Even when a solid candidate emerges, like the reform-minded Mary Connaughton, who ran for auditor in 2010, it is difficult for him or her to persuade independents to break the habit of voting Democratic.
"Some Republicans think they are sure to hold the House in 2014 no matter what happens because of gerrymandering, but even those levees won’t hold if there’s a wave of revulsion against the GOP," wrote the worried, right-leaning Wall Street Journal last month. "Marginal seats still matter for controlling Congress. The kamikazes could end up ensuring the return of all-Democratic rule."
That has already happened in Massachusetts and much of New England. Unless timid establishment Republicans find the courage to stand up to the kamikazes, they may be relegated to the New England political wilderness for a long time to come.