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EDITORIAL

A fateful moment for Massachusetts Republicans

A hard turn to the right could snuff out one of the last vestiges of responsible conservatism in the United States.

At the Massachusetts state Republican convention, gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl pledged to send the National Guard to the southern border “to stop the lawlessness” and hire back state workers fired by Governor Charlie Baker for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

There has always been a duality to the Massachusetts Republican Party — something noble and something dark.

One of the party’s most iconic figures, Henry Cabot Lodge, led an admirable, if ultimately unsuccessful fight to protect the Black vote — even as he traded in an ugly nativism. In language that would be recognizable to any Fox News viewer today, he blamed immigrants for depressing wages and bringing disease and criminality to American shores. And he even seemed to countenance vigilantism, suggesting a New Orleans mob lynching of 11 Italian Americans was “not mere riot, but rather that revenge which Lord Bacon says is a kind of wild justice.”

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Over the last few decades, the Massachusetts GOP’s nobler side has mostly prevailed. Governor William Weld combined a traditional Republican push for privatization of public services with forward-looking views on gay rights and other social issues. Governor Mitt Romney worked to expand health coverage in a precursor to Obamacare. And Governor Charlie Baker has served as a beacon of civil and constructive conservatism in a truly frightening moment in national Republican politics.

But Baker isn’t running for reelection this year. And party activists who have embraced former president Donald Trump and chafed under Baker’s leadership in recent years see a chance to steer the party in a very different direction.

The state’s voters got a visceral sense for what that could look like at the state GOP’s convention last weekend. The party’s candidate for secretary of state, Rayla Campbell, called Democrats “rotten devils” and railed against a public education system that, she said, was “telling your 5-year-old that he can go suck another 5-year-old’s [expletive].” Trump’s “border czar,” Thomas Homan, led the assembled in a chant of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” And Trump-endorsed Geoff Diehl won the party’s backing for governor by an overwhelming margin, pledging to send the National Guard to the southern border “to stop the lawlessness” and hire back state workers fired by Baker for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“The radical left wants us to sit down in the corner and do what we’re told,” said the state party’s combative chairman, Jim Lyons. “This is a new Republican party. A party that is going to stand and fight.”

It was an inauspicious start to the campaign season. And this page isn’t especially hopeful that the message will improve.

But if Diehl is unwilling to steer the party away from the science denialism and immigrant-bashing that represent American conservatism at its worst, perhaps his more moderate challenger for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, businessman Chris Doughty, can do the job.

The health of Massachusetts’ democracy is at stake. The state’s string of GOP governors have offered an important check on an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature — and real representation for the sizable share of Massachusetts voters who identify as right-of-center. If the party’s leaders make a hard turn to the right, defeat is virtually guaranteed, and an already deep blue Massachusetts will turn into a truly one-party state.

But it’s not just the Commonwealth that will suffer. America is in desperate need of a responsible conservative party that represents the sincerely held views of right-leaning voters without venturing into conspiratorial nonsense. Without one, the country runs the real risk of democratic collapse.

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The Massachusetts GOP, under Baker, is one of the few vestiges of responsible Republicanism in the country. If party leaders — and rank-and-file members — snuff that out, what do we have left?


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.