The Massachusetts Republican Revolution is getting underway on the fourth floor of a brownstone on Beacon Hill’s Walnut Street. Its Fidel and Che are wearing Vineyard Vines and startlingly bright-colored pants. The revolution will most certainly be YouTubed.
Repairing the once-proud ramparts that produced Henry Cabot Lodge, Ed Brooke, and Bill Weld will take time, of course, a process likely to be more slow climb than outright revolution. The Republican Party here did not become the ash heap it is now overnight.
Evidence of the fall is in a picture frame on the wall, which features The Boston Herald’s front page from the morning after the 1998 gubernatorial election, and an exultant Paul Cellucci, the late governor who was well liked in both parties.
Behind Cellucci at his victory speech are two folks you would not see standing behind a Republican governor-elect these days: Janice Loux, reigning executive vice president of a hotel workers local, and George Cashman, then head of the Teamsters local, since incarcerated and released. Cellucci was not choosy in whom he invited into his coalition.
This is the challenge for modern-day Republicans in Massachusetts, who wax euphoric about decades-old glories but cannot articulate a blueprint for the next election: to surround themselves with nontraditional allies. Because the roster of traditional allies is awful thin around these parts.
No member of the congressional delegation is a Republican. None of the constitutional officers is, either.
The state Senate Republican caucus is so tiny that Democrats, out of an abundance of charity, have in recent years changed parliamentary rules so that their frenemies have the power to simply summon a roll call. And, in the House, the Republican conference is sufficiently divided that the Democratic speaker calls the Republican leader to empathize about the more rambunctious members of the minority faction.
About six months after Edward J. Markey won a special election to the US Senate last year, 43 percent of Massachusetts voters in one poll decided it was time to give someone else a chance in a chamber where durability is measured in decades. That’s almost half. And the party could not field a significant player from its short bench to challenge him.
There is no comprehensive rebuilding strategy to speak of. That the party has continued that way for nearly a decade is a class-action case of political malpractice.
The Republican strategy, such as it is, instead has been to attach messianic properties to a single ticket-topper, and ride that horse as far into the barn as he (it has mostly been men) will take them. Sometimes it has worked, as it did with Mitt Romney in 2002 and Scott Brown in 2010. Mostly, it hasn’t.
Which brings us back to Walnut Street and to Rob Gray, the one with the pants, and Andrew Goodrich, with the Vineyard Vines. With financial backing from Christopher Egan, son of the late EMC founder and hefty Republican donor Dick Egan, they are launching a super PAC and sister nonprofit focused on state lawmakers.
The five-year plan, operating with a planned cumulative budget of more than $4 million for the twin organizations, is to serve as a sort of clearinghouse of opposition research on Democratic lawmakers. For instance, under an entirely plausible scenario, if a Democratic state rep in a contestable district makes an asinine comment at a town meeting, the group, inventively titled Massachusetts Citizens for Jobs, is hoping to have a camera there to record it for posterity and political utility.
Modeled after national groups like American Bridge and America Rising (the next stage of evolution in campaign finance is to come up with better names), the group, which planned to formally file organization papers Thursday, will track votes, collect testimony, issue reports, send direct mail. All in the name of, as Goodrich puts it, “lifting the veil on Beacon Hill.” They’ve been making fund-raising visits to reliably Republican enclaves and plan “dispassionate” decisions about which districts to contest. Read: Worcester County, the South Shore, the Cape, and near the New Hampshire border.
This is the way parties are built — or, in this case, rebuilt. Most of it is far from sexy: long drives to boring meetings and longer hours trawling through tape. But if the Republican Party’s heart is to beat again in Massachusetts at any healthy frequency, the resuscitation is better coming from the bottom up, rather than the top down.