We won’t have Jim Lyons to kick around anymore, after the Massachusetts Republican Party chairman lost his quest for a third term in a close vote of GOP state committee members on Tuesday night. That’s good news — and not just for state Republicans, whose party suffered a string of defeats under Lyons’s four years of disastrous leadership. Massachusetts needs at least a semblance of political competition to be a vibrant democracy. And despite all its obvious flaws, the GOP is the entity most likely to provide it. Under their new chair, Amy Carnevale, Massachusetts Republicans should prioritize recruiting candidates for local and legislative elections who can provide plausible alternatives to the state’s dominant Democrats.
Lyons, a former state legislator, leaves behind a party in tatters. Its coffers are drained, it’s lost tens of thousands of voters, and it faces legal scrutiny for potential campaign finance violations. Worst of all, its candidates were shellacked in November: the GOP gubernatorial nominee lost badly, and its already-tiny contingent in the Legislature shrunk even more. Part of Lyons’s problem was political: He embraced far-right conspiratorial nonsense that’s anathema to mainstream voters. But Lyons also seemed to simply reject the premise that the purpose of political parties is to win elections. “At first, let it be clear, we’re not going to win and even in most elections, we might lose,” he said Tuesday — as if it were a point of pride.
As entertaining as the woes of the Republicans have been for Democrats, nobody should be happy with this state of affairs. Uncontested elections — few Democratic legislators even had opponents in November — breed arrogance. They also leave a large chunk of the state — even Donald Trump got 32 percent of the vote in 2020 — feeling alienated from the political process and unrepresented in state government.
Carnevale, a state committee member from Marblehead and a Trump supporter, is hardly a liberal. She has touted her work on conservative planks in the state party platform, including opposition to abortion. What makes her different from Lyons isn’t policies or politics; she evinces a different fundamental understanding of what a political party is for. “It is not enough just to be showing up with strong ideas,” she said Tuesday. “We have to win elections.”
To that end, Carnevale says she intends to professionalize the GOP’s operations and take common-sense steps that would help it compete, such as embracing mail-in voting.
The surest way to win elections, though, is to recruit electable candidates. And that, inevitably, means a bigger tent approach than Lyons ever tolerated. There are a handful of places in Massachusetts where hard-right candidates like those preferred by Lyons might be able to prevail. But the reality is that in most of Massachusetts, Republicans need to run to the middle to have any shot at victory. The party needs to embrace a range of candidates — including those who reject Donald Trump. Lyons treated centrists as “Republicans in name only” that needed to be purged; Carnevale should see them as opportunities to expand the party’s coalition. There are plenty of centrist or conservative-leaning voters in Massachusetts who might be willing to vote for Republican candidates who distance themselves from the national party but who will never vote for a candidate spewing far-right talking points.
Indeed, that’s been the MassGOP’s playbook for success in recent decades. Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Massachusetts for years, but that hasn’t stopped GOP candidates like Mitt Romney and Charlie Baker from winning statewide elections. The party took a first step toward reclaiming that legacy on Tuesday. But the divisions inside the party remain, and it will fall to Carnevale to keep the focus on winning votes and restoring a two-party system in Massachusetts.
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