The MassGOP Struggles for Relevance

The Republican Party’s national brand adds to electoral challenges.

Massachusetts Republicans suffered yet another electoral drubbing last week. Apart from Governor Charlie Baker, every Republican candidate for statewide office got trounced by 24 to 46 point margins, based on unofficial returns. None of the congressional races were even remotely competitive. The legislative caucus shed 3 more members, further reducing their already paltry numbers. Republican Senate candidate Geoff Diehl offered little competition to Senator Elizabeth Warren, despite her often middling poll numbers. As Republicans tightened its grip on the corner office, pretty much every other office slipped through their fingers.

State level exit polling offered little reason for optimism, showing Massachusetts voters see the Republican party writ-large as not just out of touch, but scary. A full 66 percent said the way Republicans talk about politics these days is leading to increased violence, and 63 percent saying Republicans place party over country. Pluralities say the Trump administration’s policies have made them less safe, despite Trump’s frequent emphasis of public safety. This helps explain why only 31 percent of the state’s voters view the Republican Party favorably.

Day-to-day national politics, which consumes most of the voters’ news bandwidth, amplifies the party’s problems. Just 31 percent of Tuesday’s voters approve of President Trump’s job performance, in an era where the party as a whole is increasingly tied to Trump. And Trump mattered in Massachusetts: two thirds said he was a factor in determining their vote. He played very well in the primary here, but holds no broader appeal.

Voters give the national party dismal reviews on policy as well. Republicans’ key policy initiatives were mostly panned, with 65 percent against the border wall, 57 percent viewing the tax cut negatively, and most saying the Affordable Care Act should be left alone or expanded.

The effects of Massachusetts voters’ Trump-anxiety are palpable. Despite feeling pretty good about their own economic prospects, just 27 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, and 54 percent thing the next generation will be worse off than we are today.  

The MassGOP can point to the landslide reelection of Charlie Baker as a success. And yes, his 34 point margin is very impressive, as is his stratospheric 77 percent favorability on Election Day. But Baker, while claiming to endorse the party ticket, accomplished very little tangible for party candidates other than himself. His own campaign spent far more time talking about his relationships with members of the other party than his own. He only reluctantly said he planned to vote for specific GOP candidates after repeated questioning by the media and his Democratic opponent.

While Baker stands carved in marble astride the electoral Olympus, the MassGOP twists in the wind far below. Other than governor, the party’s statewide candidates get routinely thumped. The state party platform holds little relevance. The legislative caucus has no power to enact it, and the governor has no interest in doing so. Republicans in the legislature do not have the numbers to influence the legislative process, let alone act as an ideological counterweight to Beacon Hill Democrats. House Speaker Robert DeLeo guards what passes for the right flank of the state’s political establishment, working with the Governor to charts a more conservative course on a range of policy matters.

Maybe there is a future for the state’s Republican party where it functions as a force in elections and policy. Dousing the fire consuming the Republican party’s national brand would be steps 1, 2, and 3. But with voters afraid of the party’s direction, opposed to its policy ideas, and down on most of its candidates, the road out of the electoral ash heap is a hard one.


This week on the Horse Race, we get an insider look at how the “No” side won question 1, and how Becca Rausch won a Republican-held state senate seat. Plus Gin Dumcius recaps 2018 and what it could mean for state-level politics in the coming year.

And if you missed our live post-election podcast with Rep. Katherine Clark, Boston City Councillor Michelle Wu, Suffolk DA-election Rachael Rollins, and Baker-Polito campaign manager Brian Wynne, you can listen to it online.

Writing for CNN, Steve and Goucher College Professor Mileah Kromer look at how Charlie Baker and Maryland governor Larry Hogan surfed the blue wave to reelection.

Read our rundown of Massachusetts election night results (hint: if you missed the primaries, you missed the surprises).

Scott Clement of the Washington Post argues that polling did pretty well this midterm cycle.

FiveThirtyEight shows Trump has a 42 percent approval rating.

Despite moderate approval ratings, a poll by POLITICO/Monmouth University found that 6 in 10 Americans would like to see someone else in the Oval Office. Including 16 percent of Republicans.

Similarly, a recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 59 percent of Americans would like to see someone other than Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

The topline from a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll shows just 33 percent of voters believe congress should commence with impeaching Trump.

Meanwhile, this video from Pew Research shows just how polarizing Trump is.

Writing for Five Thirty Eight, Janie Valencia finds that national exit polls put the midterm gender gap at 23 points, the highest its been since 1992.

Another measure of polarization: money. CNBC tallies the economic output of the congressional districts represented by Democrats and Republicans and finds a stark divide.

Black Friday is still on for 38 percent of Americans who say they plan to shop after the day after Thanksgiving, according to a Reuters poll.