It can’t be fun being a Massachusetts Republican these days. The party experienced not only a disappointing midterm season on the national level but also an absolute blowout in state elections. The Grand Old Party of Massachusetts is not just impotent. It has flatlined.
The numbers have been counted, but let’s count them again. Come January, there will be zero Republican statewide officials; zero Republicans in the 11-member congressional delegation; and the Democratic supermajorities in both the state House and Senate will have actually grown larger. Today the party has its lowest percentage of registered voters in Massachusetts since World War II and perhaps since its founding: under 9 percent.
No wonder Republican state Representative Shawn Dooley told the Globe earlier this month that “there is either real change on the horizon or there is no Republican Party in Massachusetts.” Or that Ed Dombroski, who lost a state Senate race last month, wrote in CommonWealth magazine: “No, we’re not tired of winning. We’re tired of losing.”
It will strike some as disingenuous for a proudly liberal editorial page to lament the bad fortunes of the state’s Republican Party. But this page has consistently stood behind the idea that a vibrant two-party system is crucial for a healthy body politic. Without a strong minority party to provide some checks and balances, one-party rule can too easily lead to hubris and overreach.
But in Massachusetts today, politics consist mainly of the center-left talking with the far-left. With the departure of Governor Charlie Baker in January, the last center-right force in state policy making will be gone, and reasonable conservatism will be reduced to less than a whimper.
What, then, must be done to restore the Massachusetts Republican Party to a modicum of health?
It should start with the ousting of the state party’s chairman, Jim Lyons, when the Republicans meet in early January to elect new leadership. Lyons, an uncommunicative, hard-right, and litigious Donald Trump acolyte, has all but bankrupted the party financially, organizationally, and ideologically.
As the party has spiraled into pointlessness, he has feuded with the Baker camp and sued party members he considers insufficiently loyal. Even the influential conservative columnist Howie Carr of the Boston Herald has called for Lyons’s ouster, mocking the state party as “a dumpster fire.”
Whether the party can recover anytime soon from its Trumpian swoon is far from clear. Some in the Baker camp argue that as long as the former president remains active in national politics — he has declared his intention to seek reelection in 2024 — the Republican base will remain committed to a Lyons-like leadership.
Lyons, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has yet to announce whether he will stand for his third term. But state party committee members say it is likely that he will. If he does, he might be hard to beat, as many members of the Republican state committee still seem loyal to him and to the Trump brand, no matter that it is tarnished and perhaps fading.
By some counts there might be at least four people vying to replace Lyons. Despite the crowded field, one of the leading candidates, Amy Carnevale, a state committeewoman from Marblehead, is optimistic a challenger can win.
“If our party wants to win elections, we have to get back to the center, to appeal to independent voters, to appeal to moderate Democrats,” she said in an interview with the Globe editorial page. “I’m running to write that chapter.”
What might a reimagined Massachusetts Republican Party look like? Some Republicans point longingly to a Reagan-era focus on pocket book issues, emphasizing small government, lower taxes, and pro-business policies. Others hope for a return to the pragmatic Yankee Republicanism of Baker and Bill Weld, where fiscal prudence fused with centrist stands on cultural issues and social-welfare programs.
Either way, a new Republican state leadership will have to build a bridge between its traditional moderates and hard-right base, no easy task. And it will need to get down to the hard work that the Lyons team failed at, like fund-raising, recruiting quality candidates, and building back the party infrastructure from its most rural reaches to Boston.
A new leadership might start by listening to its own constituencies, building coalitions with centrist and independent voters, and finding practical answers to big problems.
Rather than the reflexive anti-immigrant cant of Trump, for instance, might they support a more rational immigration policy that could help farmers and small-business owners — key parts of the Republican coalition — find urgently needed workers?
And rather than using virulently transphobic rhetoric to lambast public school curricula, might they focus instead on the learning losses caused by COVID-19 lockdowns that trouble many parents in both parties?
The rebuilding won’t happen overnight, and it will take more than Lyons’s ouster. The alienated moderate Republicans who say they are embarrassed by the party’s mean-spirited rhetoric and extremist image should not stand back silently while the most inflexible ideologues steer the ship. They need to run for state committee or local office, recruit young people into their fold, and find common ground with independent voters and centrist Democrats. They need to participate.
We can’t think of a better way to make America great again.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.