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With Donald Trump's presidential inauguration just a week away, there's a rift in the Massachusetts Republican Party.
On one side are moderate and mainstream Republicans like Gov. Charlie Baker and other leaders of the state GOP, who didn't endorse or, in the governor's case, even vote for Trump. On the other side are Republican activists who supported Trump from the beginning — and who are now demanding a larger role in the state party.
Earlier this week, Newton GOP Chair Tom Mountain greeted fellow Republicans before he convened a monthly meeting in a room that was still adorned with Trump-Pence campaign posters. Mountain, who campaigned hard for Trump, has a beef with the state GOP.
"We did not have our tickets,” Mountain said.
As in tickets to next week's inauguration in Washington.
"As of two weeks ago we had not received notification of our tickets,” Mountain said. He places the blame squarely on the state Republican Party, which he said failed to send out the tickets in a timely way — or even to say if they would be sending the tickets at all.
“There was a wall of silence,” Mountain said.
To penetrate that wall, he said he repeatedly complained to state GOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes about the missing tickets. Hughes said the delay was due to the Trump people. Mountain said Hughes should have done more to put pressure on them. But finally, just this week, Mountain and some of his fellow Trump supporters received their tickets. At least, he thinks they did.
"I don't even know if I got in,” Mountain said. He said he's concerned that with the huge demand for tickets, his might have arrived too late. “Will I be confirmed? I don't know because if you have 200 delegates from Texas sending theirs in a month ago, and then there's little old us from Massachusetts — at best, we'll be a half a mile away from the podium."
Frustration, Resentment At Mass. GOP
Of course, this is about much more than tickets. It's about the party’s leadership — from the GOP chairwoman to Baker, neither of whom actively supported Trump. Mountain said the state GOP kept him and his fellow Trump supporters at arms’ length, refusing, for example, to free up party resources to help them campaign for Trump in New Hampshire.
"We received no cooperation whatsoever from the state party leadership,” Mountain said. “Meanwhile, we lost New Hampshire [narrowly], and we're convinced that if we had had the cooperation we probably could have pulled out the victory. Thankfully, we didn't need New Hampshire in the end, but we didn't know at the time.”
Among those who understand Mountain’s frustration is Geoff Diehl, a Republican state representative from Whitman who co-chaired the Trump campaign in Massachusetts.
"I think there is legitimately some folks that felt that the Mass. GOP should have done a lot more — Trump supporters, delegates, activists who have been resentful of that," Diehl said.
Diehl says those who worked hard for Trump are looking for some recognition and respect.
"Fifty percent of the Republicans in Massachusetts saw Donald Trump as a new way of trying to deal with this partisan divide and this effort by the mainstream media to paint Republicans as unfit for leadership,” Diehl said. “That's been a struggle that's been going on for several years and, again, Donald Trump has brought it to a head — and we're not the only state where this is happening."
Indeed, following the election, Republican Party leaders who didn't support Trump in Ohio and New Hampshire have been forced out.
And some Trump supporters here in Massachusetts are pushing for the same thing — backing a bid by anti-tax activist Steve Aylward to oust Hughes as GOP chair later in January. Aylward, who was at the meeting in Newton, says the fact that Massachusetts Republicans lost a sheriff's race in Essex County and picked up just one seat in the Legislature on Election Day shows they need new leadership.
"All over the country Republicans prospered. The Mass. GOP is taking bows and accolades for breaking even,” Aylward said. “We should have done much better. We have a lot of money in our coffers thanks to Charlie Baker, and we should have done better. We should have had more people running."
Hughes says she already has commitments from a majority of state Republican committee members to win re-election. And she disputes Aylward's claim that the party fared poorly this past election under her leadership.
"First of all, I'm proud to have the support of the majority of the committee,” Hughes told WBUR's Radio Boston in December. “I think that we've done a great job. We had our best year. We were able to keep all of the incumbents safe on Beacon Hill and add a seat, which has not been done in over 30 years in a presidential year."
And to charges that the state GOP did too little to help the top of the ticket, Hughes says the party correctly focused on down-ballot Republicans.
But the fact remains that like her ally Baker, Hughes was not a Trump supporter — which angers that part of the Republican base that worked so hard to elect him.
Mountain said that's why many Massachusetts Trump supporters are backing her challenger. And Mountain said it's why Baker may get a cold shoulder from many Trump supporters like him when the governor runs for re-election, as expected.
When asked how important Trump backers are to Baker, Mountain responded emphatically. “Extremely important," Mountain said. "We're the grassroots people."
Mountain contends that Trump supporters are an important part of the grassroots that can energize and make or break a campaign. “We're the ones who got a million people voting for Donald Trump in the primary,” he said. “That support has dried up for Charlie Baker.”
According to Mountain, neither the Baker administration nor the state GOP has reached out to his fellow Trump supporters, and as a result, he said a lot of people are going to be disinclined to work hard on the Baker re-election campaign. “What they'll probably do is just sit home,” Mountain said.
Asked this week about this rift in his Republican base, Baker said he takes pride in being able to work with Democrats and Republicans of various stripes, presenting himself as a kind of political dad trying to maintain order in an unruly family.
“I'm going to continue to work collaboratively with whomever has an interest in seeing the commonwealth of Mass. succeed,” Baker told reporters Wednesday. “And that means conversations with people at the federal level. We've worked extremely well with folks on the Obama team over the course of the last few years on issues that have represented Massachusetts, and I fully expect we'll do the same with Trump folks as well as Trump supporters.”
That could well be, even if some of those Trump supporters still need to be convinced.
This segment aired on January 13, 2017.
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