'We Got Completely Clobbered': Mass. GOP Faces A Reckoning — And Calls For New Leadership

Download Audio
Jim Lyons (State House News Service)
Mass. GOP Chairman Jim Lyons (State House News Service)

Just how bad was the election for Massachusetts Republicans? Tom Mountain, the vice chairman of the state party, knows. And he doesn't mince words.

"We got completely clobbered," Mountain said. "We were decimated. It was terrible."

That pretty well sums it up. But hold on, there's more.

"We didn't pick up a single congressional seat," Mountain continued. "We lost in the Senate. Every state committee member who ran for something, from Congress to county commissioner, lost. It was a complete debacle. You can't get around it."

The state GOP will enter the new year with a shrinking minority on Beacon Hill, no members in Congress and internal divisions that are forcing a reckoning. Come January, Republicans will have just 29 seats in the 160-person House; and in the 40-member Senate, they'll have just three seats.

"Our membership is decreasing," said Anthony Amore, who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State in 2018. He called the party's condition "dire."

"Our financial position — suffice it to say it's not great," he said. "And outside of the [Gov. Charlie Baker], we don't have any state-wide office holder or members of the congressional delegation. So I'd be lying if I said we're in good shape."

Amore believes the state GOP is hobbled by internal divisions and has become a party of factions that operates a bit like a circular firing squad.

"I think we're our own worst enemies," Amore said. "We speak often of Ronald Reagan, but we never follow [his] 11th commandment of never speaking ill of other Republicans."

State GOP Chairman Jim Lyons has embraced President Trump as the party's brand. There's a portrait of Trump on the party's website, and Lyons is an outspoken supporter of the president's baseless claims of election fraud.

"I have no problem with the president pursuing what he believes are his legal, constitutional rights," Lyons said. "I have no problem with that at all."

"We speak often of Ronald Reagan, but we never follow [his] 11th commandment of never speaking ill of other Republicans."

Anthony Amore

But that puts the party leadership at odds with Baker, the state's most successful Republican, a moderate who didn't vote for Trump and who criticizes the president for failing to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden's election victory.

"One of the things I don't believe that people shouldn't stand for — if you're anywhere in elective office — is this idea somehow that elections are only [legitimate] if you win," Baker said at a press conference last week.

More than a few Bay State Republicans are frustrated with the party's leadership and say it's time for a change. Among them is Norfolk state Rep. Shawn Dooley, who announced this week that he plans to challenge Lyons for chairman in January.

"We're obviously going backwards,"Dooley said. "I think the messaging is poor, and I think there's a problem with the brand."

Dooley faults the party for being too focused on Donald Trump instead of core Republican values like lower taxes, personal freedom and supporting the police amidst calls for reform.

"The current leadership of the Mass. GOP has been very, very aggressive," he said. "We come across as very negative. [We resemble] a party of 'no' [instead of] a party of ideas. We're supposed to be a party of solutions."

But Lyons is unapologetic about his embrace of Trump. The recent electoral losses notwithstanding, Lyons said Trump has energized a core of Republican voters who will help the party win elections in the future.

"I am very optimistic that President Trump has brought a groundswell of people who were uninvolved to get involved," said Lyons, who described himself as "kind of like New Gingrich: a happy warrior."

But Lyons' critics say focusing on Trump voters is a bad strategy for broad electoral success in Massachusetts. Speaking to reporters recently, Baker suggested the state GOP pivot away from Trump and national politics, focusing instead on local issues.

"I think it's important for people who run for statewide office to understand that what voters care about here are statewide local issues," Baker said. "That's really where our focus as a party needs to be."

"They should be courting Charlie Baker. They should send him flowers. They should see how he likes his coffee and make sure to hand-deliver it to him."

Jane Swift

The state GOP has a strained relationship with Baker, but Republican Jane Swift, who served as lieutenant governor and acting governor, believes the party should heed Baker's advice.

"They should be courting Charlie Baker," Swift said. "They should send him flowers. They should see how he likes his coffee and make sure to hand-deliver it to him."

A hugely popular governor and prodigious fund-raiser like Baker should be a saving grace for the party, according to Swift.

"It is shocking to me that a party that is almost irrelevant [and] that has an asset like Charlie Baker would be almost at war with the most important attribute that they have," she said.

Mountain, who says he, too, is considering running for Party chairman, agrees with Swift.

"We have to stop this contentious game with the governor because it doesn't do us any good," he said. "[Baker] is our Republican leader and we have to treat him as such."

Mountain is among a number of Republicans who say that the party must unite if it hopes to recover from the clobbering it took on election day. And that begins with mending fences with Baker.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Republican state representatives for the coming session.

This segment aired on November 19, 2020.


Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live