Our Opinion: State GOP undone from within

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The Massachusetts Republican Party is moving its headquarters out of Boston and selling furniture in the process while Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has created a powerhouse new political action committee unconnected to the state party. The Mass GOP, increasingly ineffectual and devoted to President Trump, may slide totally into irrelevance — and if it does, it can look in the mirror to find blame.

The State House News Service reported last week that the Massachusetts Republican Party is moving to cut costs. A few hundred folding chairs and tables will be sold so the party no longer has to pay to store them. Chairman Jim Lyons says the party wants to spend its money on candidate support, but it is also considering eliminating the regional field offices that would offer assistance to candidates going into the 2020 elections.

Meanwhile, the governor's Massachusetts Majority spent more than a quarter of a million in support of 15 municipal candidates in the Nov. 5 elections. Massachusetts Majority is a super PAC, a fundraising behemoth that is allowed to raise essentially unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns courtesy of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. However, as Republican political observer Ed Lyons argued in Commonwealth Magazine, Massachusetts Majority, beyond reams of money, which all superPACs have by definition, also has political supporters, a voter data base, a platform and a powerbase of elected officials — which basically makes it a political party.

A state Republican Party with a Republican in the top state office ought to be in good shape, and probably would be in any state other than Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Republican Party leans far to the right and as such rails regularly against Gov. Baker's moderate policies. It also chastises him for criticizing the national party standard-bearer. The essential problem for the state GOP is that the twice-elected Gov. Baker is quite popular in the state and President Trump, based on polls and the 27-point trouncing he took from Hillary Clinton in 2016, is not.

In an attempt to embarrass the governor of their own party before last year's elections, right-wing Republicans collected enough votes at the party convention to place conservative minister Scott Lively, who called President Trump "God's man in the White House," on the Republican Party primary ballot for governor. Mr. Lively, with his history of anti-LGBT sentiments, succeeded only in embarrassing the party before he was handily defeated in the primary. The state party also backed Trump loyalist Geoff Diehl in the race against Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018 even though in moderate Beth Lindstrom the party had a candidate who could have at least made Sen. Warren worry a little. Sen. Warren was so unconcerned about Mr. Diehl that she announced her candidacy for president in the days running up to Election Day for Senate, which she never would have done if the race was competitive.

Gov. Baker is the latest in a line of Massachusetts Republican governors who have had no coattails for other Republican candidates to cling. Republicans don't get elected to other state offices like attorney general or treasurer and they are a tiny, ineffectual presence in the Legislature. But why should the governor extend coattails to a state party that so thoroughly detests him? Even the Democratic Party hierarchy gives him grudging respect.

Could Massachusetts Majority change this dynamic in 2020? Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy are waging a pitched battle for the Democratic Party's U.S. Senate nomination, but the winner may not have a Republican opponent. First District U.S. Rep. Richard Neal will again have a Democratic primary challenger, but it is unlikely he will face a Republican in November. The all-Democratic Berkshire legislative delegation had no Republican challengers last election, and it would not be surprising if they went unchallenged again.

If Republican candidates do emerge for these and other offices in 2020, it may be that Massachusetts Majority will have found them and backed them with financing and data. A state Republican Party out of touch with traditionally moderate Massachusetts Republicans like Governor Baker, strapped for cash, and given to self-destructive behavior, isn't in position to turn around party fortunes. It should perhaps just move out of the way.

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