Neither widespread dissatisfaction with the direction of the country nor unhappiness with the performance of President Biden could fuel the oft discussed but never materialized “red wave” last year. Republicans entered Election Day 2022 full of hope and exited amid a disappointing set of unrealized expectations.
Voters weren’t buying what the GOP was selling. In Massachusetts, the situation has never been bleaker. The Commonwealth said farewell to Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who despite ranking as the most popular governor in the country throughout his tenure was routinely sniped at by his fellow MassGOP members.
Four years after voters reelected Baker with the highest gubernatorial vote total in the Commonwealth’s history, Geoff Diehl, the 2022 GOP nominee for governor, lost by a nearly two-to-one margin. No Republicans were elected to statewide or federal offices. Only 26 seats in the 200-member Legislature are Republican, and just 3 of the 40 state senators remain.
Like any successful private-sector business, the state GOP must take stock of the past to succeed in the future. Here are four immediate places to start.
Stop squabbling over table scraps. With less than 10 percent of Bay State voters registered as Republican, the fight must be with the Democrats, not each other. Yet Jim Lyons, the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, has inexplicably reserved his harshest criticism for Baker and other members of the GOP. With the exception of controversies about lackluster fundraising and potential lawsuits from unpaid vendors, Lyons’s most frequently generated headlines have involved intraparty food fights. Having alienated independents with his hard-right messaging, Lyons also managed to lose support across the gambit of Massachusetts conservatives — ranging from Governor Charlie Baker to Howie Carr. A true lose-lose.
Find the conservative issues voters care about and prosecute relentlessly. Inflation and the economy were the top issues for voters last fall — issues that Republicans historically champion and enjoy an advantage with voters. The ballot question slapping higher rates on top earners barely got over the finish line despite its supporters outspending opponents two-to-one. A functioning Massachusetts Republican Party, a credible slate of candidates, and well-organized opposition could have joined Baker and others to unite against this tax hike.
Recognize that any winning Massachusetts campaign must include Democrats and independents, and leave the culture wars for redder parts of America. The math is simple: Of the nearly 5 million registered voters in Massachusetts, 60 percent are unenrolled and 30 percent are Democrats. Independent registrations (unenrolled) are on the rise. The messaging should be tailored to build a coalition capable of appealing to that audience. Meaningful solutions to pressing issues that belong to neither political party — housing, public safety, energy prices — but are top of mind for voters should be the focus.
Finally, the MassGOP must move on from the Trump era. From tax cuts to regulatory rollbacks, Donald Trump’s presidency was not without conservative policy accomplishments at the national level, but there has never been a single poll showing Trump is viable in the Commonwealth. He lost by 28 percentage points in 2016 and an even wider 33 points in 2020. The last presidential election was not stolen, and any breath spent peddling conspiracy theories is a lost opportunity. Yet last year, Diehl wasted precious time answering questions about his previous tortured statements on the 2020 election.
To be sure, things in politics are never as good or as bad as they seem. Having not received the scrutiny a more competitive campaign would have brought, Governor Maura Healey will face challenges, even with her party controlling all the levers of power. Voters historically opt for a check and balance on Beacon Hill, electing GOP governors like Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney, and Charlie Baker.
But the resurgence of a vibrant Massachusetts Republican Party goes beyond failures of the Democrats or any one individual. It starts with a broader recognition that the status quo isn’t cutting it, a course correction is long overdue, and there needs to be a commitment to the hard work to make it a reality.
Read more in the series: The future of the state Republican Party
Lizzy Guyton is a former communications director for Governor Charlie Baker. Colin Reed was a campaign manager for Senator Scott Brown. They are cofounders of South & Hill Strategies.