Governor Charlie Baker’s political operatives appear to have succeeded in getting state Representative Geoff Diehl out of the contest to be the next Massachusetts Republican Party chairman. He even endorsed the Baker-backed candidate — leaving Diehl’s dismayed Trump-backing conservative colleagues gnashing their teeth as they watch the Whitman lawmaker take a job at party headquarters.
Diehl, who is losing his $75,000 legislative salary and state health care insurance at the end of the year, has left his conservative allies — many of whom want to grab the state GOP from Baker’s control — scrambling to rally around another outgoing legislator who quickly jumped into the contest.
His withdrawal came earlier this week amid hints he was going on the party payroll, but what really jolted the conservative anti-Trump factions was the note Diehl sent to the GOP state committee members late Thursday. In the message, he endorsed the candidate that party activists see as the governor’s choice, state committeeman Brent Andersen, for the post.
“We mutually agreed that I could best serve the party by advising him on candidate recruitment and grassroots engagement, areas where I have passionately worked over the past decade,” Diehl wrote.
And then the sparks really flew through the party’s right-leaning party factions.
“I am shocked,’’ said state Representative Jim Lyons of Andover, who had toyed with the idea of seeking the post but deferred to Diehl, whom he had strongly supported as the GOP’s US Senate nominee this year.
Others are apparently convinced he sold out for a job. That’s what his close ally GOP state committeeman Steve Aylward said in an e-mail he sent Friday to fellow Republicans, expressing his dismay at Diehl’s secret negotiations with the Baker operatives.
“If you choose to be altruistic, you can think as I do that Geoff is extremely naïve,” he wrote. “If however as so many of you have indicated as I have talked to you this morning, you believe that Geoff sold out for a job opportunity in politics, then you will see Geoff as nothing more than typical.”
“Like all of you, I was floored by Geoff’s email,’’ Aylward said. “I was loyal to Geoff, he was not loyal to me.” Diehl did not return calls seeking his reaction to the criticism.
Now Diehl’s moves in recent days have prompted Lyons, a popular figure among his fellow members on the 80-member GOP state committee that elects the chair every two years, to get back into the contest to lead the party. Lyons was defeated for reelection in November.
Since his election in 2010 as a legislator from Whitman, Diehl built his reputation as a GOP outsider on Beacon Hill who alienated the Republican establishment — from the Baker administration and the House minority leadership to the Baker-controlled party. His embracing of presidential candidate Donald Trump — cochairing his Massachusetts campaign — didn’t settle well with those around the governor, who has refused to back the president.
That tension played out in the general election when Baker, in a gubernatorial debate, refused to say if he was voting for Diehl in his race against US Senator Elizabeth Warren. The governor later acknowledged he would vote for him in the minutes following the televised debate, but his hesitancy further frayed the relationship.