When Republican state committee members come together this evening for a long-delayed vote on whether to endorse the national Republican platform — a document wildly out of step with most Massachusetts voters on social and economic policy — the decision will be a referendum on the future of the local party. Will it take an independent course by explicitly rejecting the hard-edged conservatism of the national party? Or will it choose to maximize the contrast with local Democrats by seconding even the most extreme of the national party’s stances?
For its sake, and the state’s, the Massachusetts GOP should pursue an independent course. The party’s national platform features, among other provisions, a ban on abortions without exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother, and a refusal to consider any deal on the federal budget that contains new tax revenues.
Those positions have been soundly rejected by Massachusetts voters. But some Republicans, understandably, point to the losses of such relative moderates as Senator Scott Brown and congressional candidate Richard Tisei and wonder whether the party would be better off providing a clearer alternative to the ruling Democrats.
That would be a misreading of the election results. Brown and Tisei were greatly hindered by their association with the national party; senator-elect Elizabeth Warren’s closing argument against Brown warned of the implications of a Republican takeover in the Senate, and Tisei was made to answer for all the excesses of the obstructionist GOP majority in the US House. Resistance to the national GOP dogged the party’s candidates throughout the Northeast and especially in New England, where the Republican candidates lost every House race. This was their third skunking out of the last four elections.
Clearly, the New England brand of Republican would benefit from distancing itself more formally from the party’s national platform. In fact, a clear declaration of independence by the New England state parties, as proposed in an op-ed Sunday by former state Board of Education Chairman James Peyser, would add considerable credibility to the claims of candidates like Brown and Tisei that they would be change agents within the Republican caucus; having a separate New England Republican platform would help candidates brush off the endless queries about how often they would side with the national party.
Reconnecting the New England Republican party with its libertarian traditions, including fiscal conservatism, progressive stances on racial issues, and social tolerance would provide enough contrast with Democrats to give voters two viable options. It may even serve to elect more Republicans.