Politics

Here’s where the MassGOP stands after Tuesday’s election

"I think the Republican Party is underwater and will be for years to come right now," one longtime consultant said.

James J. "Jim" Lyons Jr., chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party
Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, talking to the media on election night. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
2022 Election

When state lawmakers convene for a new legislative session next year, there will be approximately 26 Republicans out of the 200 total seats in both chambers of the State House.

On Tuesday, the MassGOP’s already slim minority shed even more weight, as Democrats picked up three more House seats than they had in the previous cycle. The result leaves Republicans with fewer representatives in any session since 2009, according to the State House News Service.

The party’s best chance for a win was the competitive match-up between incumbent state Sen. Becca Rausch, of Needham, and Republican state Rep. Shawn Dooley. But Dooley’s attempt to swing the historically flip-flopped district back over to Republican control fell short, and Democrats will keep hold of their 37-3 majority in the Senate next session.

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Not a single Republican won any of the contested statewide races, with the party’s top-of-ticket gubernatorial pick Geoff Diehl, the former state representative from Whitman, notching a decisive loss against Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey.

The shortcoming leaves Diehl 0 for 3 in his last few elections, following an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018 (and 0 for 4 when counting for a failed bid for state Republican Party chair).

Republicans seeking seats in Congress also had no luck.

The only Republican district attorney running for re-election, Plymouth District Attorney Tim Cruz, held onto his seat. But, Republican Daniel Higgins lost to Democrat Robert Galibois in an open race to be the top prosecutor in the Cape and Islands office, flipping the position for the first time since 1970.

Voters in Bristol County also ushered in change by backing Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, a Democrat, over 25-year incumbent Thomas Hodgson, the outspoken conservative sheriff whose controversial policies made national news during his time in office.

The GOP-backed effort on Question 4, which asked voters whether the state should repeal a law that will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, also failed.

In sum, the state GOP’s loose grasp on the state’s levers of power has left it “continuing its slide to near-total irrelevance,” as CommonWealth magazine put it earlier this week.

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“I think the Republican Party is underwater and will be for years to come right now,” longtime GOP consultant Rob Gray told WBUR.

A party divided

The internal politics of the MassGOP have been rocky since long before Election Day, as party officials have splintered over to what extent they should adopt former President Donald Trump’s brand of Republicanism.

Party Chairman Jim Lyons, for example, is an enthusiastic Trump supporter whereas, in contrast, the party’s top lawmaker, moderate Gov. Charlie Baker, backed impeachment for Trump in early 2021.

“Donald Trump hijacked the national Republican Party and then he hijacked the Massachusetts Republican Party,” Gray told WBUR. “Baker lost control and Trump supporters took over.”

Trump-backed Diehl lost to Healey, who warned voters Diehl would open the Bay State up to “Trumpism,” by a nearly 30-point margin.

Healey had a hearty lead in the polls throughout the entire campaign cycle. One poll even showed voters believed she better resembled uber-popular Baker’s ideology and leadership style than Diehl — something Republican primary voters seemingly declined to capitalize on in choosing him over Chris Doughty, the Wrentham businessman and first-time candidate who was considered a moderate made in Baker’s mold.

Boston Herald columnist and conservative talk radio host Howie Carr, in a scathing column this week, implored Diehl to “take a hike” — and to take Lyons with him.

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“Massachusetts is never going to be Trump country, and especially not with the bleep-show that the state GOP has degenerated into under the Lyons-Diehl regime,” Carr wrote, at times referring to the duo as a “death cult” that’s left the MassGOP on “life support.”

“One thing about Trump: he prefers winners to losers, and that should rule out any aid and assistance to these feckless stumblebums,” Carr quipped.

Lyons did not take questions from reporters as he left Diehl’s election night festivities, but had argued earlier this fall voters want to see Republicans who have clear differences from Democrats and a willingness to fight for their conservative principles, according to WBUR.

“I think what the people of Massachusetts want to see is a Republican Party that doesn’t … go along with everything that the Democrats do,” Lyons said. “There has to be a distinction in Massachusetts between what the Democratic Party stands for and what the Republican Party stands for.”

Still, some state party committee members last year found themselves at odds with Lyons, who even Baker said last year should resign after a string of controversies engulfed and split the party.

In the wake of Tuesday’s disappointing election results, it has become clear divisions still remain.

A debate over leadership

In fact, the losing vote tallies this week have renewed debate over what the leadership of the MassGOP should look like moving forward.

Lyons first took lead of the party in early 2019 after losing his state representative seat the prior year.

He has not said whether he will run again for chair in January, according to Politico, which was unable to reach to the chairman for comment on Wednesday night.

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(Lyons did, however, email committee members on Wednesday with threats to subpoena them as he wages a lawsuit against the party’s own treasurer, Patrick Crowley. The filing alleges Crowley has refused to authorize payments from the party’s bank account until committee members can sign off on a new budget, WBUR reports.)

But state Committee Vice Chair Jay Fleitman hasn’t wasted any time making clear he intends to run for Lyon’s seat come next year.

“We’re in need of a serious rebuilding,” Fleitman told Politico. “We’ve been expending most of our energy fighting each other rather than doing what we need to do to be successful.”

In an email to fellow committee members announcing his intention to run, Fleitman underscored how Republicans “own frightfully little of the political landscape in our state, and our party in Massachusetts contributed nothing in the national struggle against the destruction being done by the left wing of the Democrats,” according to the SHNS-powered political newsletter MASSter List.

If party committee members don’t first address their divisions, “we will remain in a political wilderness,” he wrote.

State Committeewoman Amy Carnevale also told Politico she is considering a run for the party’s chair.

Asked about his party’s leadership on Wednesday, Baker, whose days in office are now numbered, declined to get into it.

Not until, at least, when he steps down from the corner office in January.

“Elections are about the people on the ticket,” he said. “The voters have spoken.”

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