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As Trump Exits, Republicans In Massachusetts Ask 'Now What?'05:49
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President Donald Trump arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan,. 12. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
President Donald Trump arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Jan,. 12. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Jennifer Horn is done with Trump and the Republican Party.

"Unfortunately, I no longer consider it my party, after watching how they conducted themselves post-election," she says.

Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire GOP and a co-founder of the Lincoln Project — a group of former Republican operatives who produced some of the toughest anti-Trump campaign ads of the election. When most Congressional Republicans refused to condemn Trump's unfounded claims of election fraud, Horn quit the party last month. Her disgust hardened after pro-Trump extremists attacked the Capitol — and 147 Republicans, including eight senators, voted against certifying the election of Joe Biden.

"Unfortunately, I no longer consider it my party, after watching how they conducted themselves post-election."

Jennifer Horn, The Lincoln Project

"When you look at that list of seditious [lawmakers]," Horn says, with palpable anger in her voice, "people like [Republican Senators] Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who led the charge on this, who refused to change course even after the Capitol was overrun by a riotous mob. You know, those folks can expect that the Lincoln Project is going to become a regular part of their lives for as long as they are in public office."

In one of its most recent spots, the Lincoln Project takes aim at Hawley, accusing him and "his pals" of backing "a seditious plot."

As Democrat Joe Biden is sworn in as the nation's 46th president, Republicans are at a crossroads. Despite being impeached twice, Donald Trump still commands huge loyalty — even if some in the party say it's time to renounce him and his norm-busting ways.

Indeed, Horn's disgust with Trump and his enablers is not widely shared among Republicans. An NPR-PBS Marist poll finds 70% of Republicans continue to believe that Biden was not legitimately elected, even though there's no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud or irregularities that could have altered the outcome of the 2020 election. A Washington Post-ABC poll found that solid majorities in the party believe there was election fraud — and that Trump bears little or no responsibility for the deadly attack on the Capitol. For example, Tom Mountain, the deputy chairman of the Massachusetts GOP, told WBUR that he doesn't hold the president accountable for the riot.

"[Trump] doesn't deserve the direct blame for that because he didn't tell anyone to break into the Capitol — never would, never has," Mountain said.

In fact, at a rally on Jan. 6, the president did whip up his supporters, repeating the lie that the election was stolen, and urging them to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell."

"If you don't fight like hell, we're not going to have a country anymore," Trump told his supporters before a violent mob overran the Capitol.

"I am very optimistic that President Trump has brought a groundswell of people who were uninvolved to get involved."

Jim Lyons, Mass. GOP Chairman

There are deep divisions in the Republican coalition in Massachusetts. The state GOP is led by Jim Lyons, a pro-Trump Republican who just won re-election as party chairman. Lyons, who did not respond to a request to talk to WBUR for this story, said in November that he supported Trump's baseless challenge of the election results — and that the president has energized a core of Republican voters who will help the party going forward.

"I am very optimistic that President Trump has brought a groundswell of people who were uninvolved to get involved," Lyons said.

Among those voters is Joe Romano, who runs an appliance repair business in Malden. A devoted Trump supporter, Romano still believes the president's unfounded claim that the election was stolen — and says he is disappointed that Trump didn't fight harder.

"Because the most important thing he ran on — this whole law and order thing," Romano said. "[Trump said], 'We're going to arrest Hillary; we got evidence on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, election fraud.' These are things we were hearing non-stop. We thought he'd fight to the end, do whatever it took. I mean, we heard the president was going to invoke the Insurrection Act," referring to the federal law that empowers the President to deploy U.S. military to suppress civil disorder, insurrection, or rebellion.

"And then none of that happened," a disappointed Romano said. "Nothing."

If Romano and Chairman Lyons represent the pro-Trump wing of the Massachusetts GOP, Anthony Amore occupies a different Republican universe.

"If I was a member of Congress, I would vote for impeachment without question," said Amore, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2018. Amore calls Joe Biden "the legitimate president," and labels Trump's incitement of a riotous mob an "affront" to the Constitution and to a "nation of laws."

"We should work on rebuilding our party as a party of Republicanism and conservatism, and [move] away from the idea of this cult of personality with an allegiance to one person rather than the country or the rule of law," Amore said. "That's what I think the party writ large should do."

But can one party be a home to conservatives like Amore, who condemn Trump and his "cult of personality," and a home to a large core of Trump loyalists who continue to embrace a series of unfounded conspiracies?

Horn, of the Lincoln Project, says the country needs two strong parties — and that conservatives like her need a place to go. She admires Republicans like Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who distanced themselves from Trump. But she says there are too few of them — and too many others who aided and abetted Trump's authoritarian ways.

"This Republican Party cannot provide that leadership," she said.

"We should work on rebuilding our party as a party of Republicanism and conservatism, and [move] away from the idea of this cult of personality with an allegiance to one person rather than the country or the rule of law."

Anthony Amore

Jeffrey Engel, who heads the Centre for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, says history has shown that political parties don't last forever. And he believes the current Republican Party's coalition of fiscal and religious conservatives along with hard line Trumpists will break apart.

"I don't anticipate the Republican Party as the Republican coalition as it stood in 2015 surviving this crisis and surviving until 2025," Engel said.

The cracks in that coalition are evident in Massachusetts — and elsewhere. According to the New York Times, a County Republican Party Chairman in Wisconsin is planning to break away from the GOP to start a local Trump-centric third party.

Jennifer Nassour, the former Chair of the Massachusetts GOP, hopes Engel's prediction won't come to pass, because it would lead to years — or decades — of electoral losses. But Nassour does believe that her party needs to do some deep "soul-searching." She's hopeful that with Trump gone, Republicans can embrace "a big tent" that keeps moderates like her, wins back the Lincoln Project people, while holding on to all those Trump supporters.

"Whether you like it or not, Trump got nearly 75 million votes," Nassour said. "Their votes count just as much everyone else's, which is why I'm saying big tent. We need one party to actually get its act together and figure out who they are."

Democrats have their own internal divisions to contend with. But with regard to her party in this moment of inflection, Nassour says the GOP needs to ask the question that a lot of people struggle with in their own lives: "Who do I want to be when I grow up?"

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated which office Anthony Amore ran for in 2018. It has been updated to reflect that he ran for secretary of state. 

This article was originally published on January 20, 2021.

This segment aired on January 20, 2021.

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Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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