DEMOCRATS WANT BIG WINS in the November midterm elections.
But in primaries last week in Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia, not a single Republican critic of President Trump survived. In Massachusetts, nearly 28 percent of delegates to the state GOP convention last month voted for Scott Lively over Charlie Baker, the most popular governor in the country.
Lively has claimed that gays controlled the Third Reich. He also calls himself “100 percent pro-life,” “100 percent Second Amendment,” and “100 percent pro-Trump.”
Who are these Lively voters? Activists who want to send Baker a message to move to the right? Anti-gay bigots? Or mega-fans of Donald Trump, whose own extremes freed them up to support the ultra-extreme Lively?
It’s Trump, says Todd Domke, a long-time Republican analyst who resigned from the GOP after Trump’s election. The GOP base here is more conservative and populist than most realize, he says, and a president’s appeal is huge. Domke sites Ray Shamie’s stunning win over Watergate star and former Attorney General Elliot Richardson in the state’s GOP primary in 1984. Shamie wrapped himself around the swaggering Ronald Reagan. Richardson? Not so much.
Now we’re talking supper-swaggering Trump, a TV star billionaire with a cult-like appeal who drives liberal elites bananas. At a Belchertown Flag Day celebration last year, Lively supporter Chris Pinto of Massachusetts Gun Rights gave a speech detailing most every nasty remark made by such elites about Trump. Among them: Madonna, Robert DeNiro, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Colbert, Kathy Griffin, Snoop Dogg, YG, and Everlast.
Richard Howell, another Lively supporter, says that zeal for Trump turned into zeal for Lively, who’s wrapped himself around Trump completely. Baker, meanwhile, has kept his distance. He even blanked the 2016 presidential ballot, voting for neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton.
But it’s not just where Trump “stands on the issues,” says Howell. “It’s performance. Trump is not going to be threatened or intimidated.” And neither, he says, is Lively.
Howell says he loves what the president is doing “with the mullahs in Iran.” He calls the Mueller investigation a “deep state operation” and wonders why nobody ever prosecuted Clinton for her e-mails. “If there were any truth to (the women’s claims) it would’ve come out sooner,” he says.
You talk to deep-red Massachusetts Lively conservatives, and you realize: Although their numbers are tiny, their ideas echo talking points you heard in reports from Indiana and Ohio and daily on “Fox News.” Though no one I talked to embraced Lively’s crusade against homosexuality, they do oppose gay marriage and transgender rights. But mostly, they love Trump on guns, the wall, and anti-abortion judges.
Massachusetts’ progressives, meanwhile, may as well live in a different galaxy. They’re horrified by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to separate children from mothers at border crossings. They love talk of Cohen’s “slush fund” for porn stars and CNN debates between Alan Dershowitz and Jeffrey Toobin over Trump’s taking “the Fifth.”
GOP activist Steve Aylward of Watertown says he couldn’t vote for Charlie Baker, “who’s supported every kooky liberal program there is, from the bathroom bill (his term for transgender legislation) to bilingual education to this most recent crime bill, which may as well be called the let-people-out-of-jail bill.” Aylward, famed in state conservative circles for successfully leading the defeat of the 2014 gas hike ballot proposal, insists Lively support “has very little to do with gay rights. This is the anti-Baker Trump vote, if it was Scott Lively or Joe the Plumber.”
None of this is to argue that Charlie Baker needs to worry about Scott Lively on Election Day. But Trump fever clearly still thrives here in blue Massachusetts. And if it thrives here, Democrats may yet face a long, tough slog across America this fall.Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”