MASSACHUSETTS IS NOT used to coming in last, but that is exactly where we find ourselves on a new ranking from the CPAC Foundation and the American Conservative Union Foundation comparing state legislatures on conservative policies. Massachusetts voters have now shown they have no appetite for the policies of the extreme right, and nor should they, but last month’s elections prove undeniably that our state is suffering from a drought of political perspectives and debate. Democrats easily walked into every statewide constitutional office and the Democratic hold on the Legislature grew an even larger supermajority.
In the course of extinguishing the dumpster fire that is the current Mass GOP and Trumpism, we have also effectively silenced those who bring a different perspective to the table. I should know – I ran for office as a moderate Republican and lost.
It is important to understand that I write this piece not to assign blame for my own loss, but rather to give a perspective on what today holds back moderate Republicans – in the mold of Governors Charlie Baker or Bill Weld – and how it is not helping our Commonwealth be the best it could be.
We had a proud tradition of two-party governance in Massachusetts, with voters seeking at least some degree of political balance, by electing a series of Republican governors in an otherwise blue state. Come January 2023, though, we’ll effectively have one-party rule.
Throughout my state Senate campaign, I knocked thousands of doors and attended hundreds of events speaking with voters. A common theme I encountered from unenrolled and even registered Republican voters was a level of toxicity the party label carried with it. I faced a monolith misperception that if you were a Republican today, then you must be an extreme, far right candidate. While that wasn’t the case for me (or, several other candidates), that stink of presumed extremism couldn’t be washed off.
Interestingly, when I talked with voters about my positions on important issues – as a fiscally conservative, pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ Republican – they found we shared common ground. That’s because my values and positions are consistent with the mainstream Massachusetts electorate. But, perception can become reality and the MassGOP has done nothing to shake this negative perception of Republican extremism. To the contrary, those few in state party leadership have embraced and promoted it – to the detriment of the party, the candidates, and the people of Massachusetts. State party messaging here focused on the ever-unpopular Donald Trump, while promoting weak candidates with views far out of step with would-be constituents.
For me, I really had a race against two opponents: my Democrat incumbent competitor and the Mass GOP. At times, it seemed the state party was the more formidable de facto adversary, as I tried to appeal to the broader electorate.
The erosion of the Mass GOP, coinciding with its hijacking by a small far-right faction, does not represent the values of most residents. Yet, we all face the consequences. The barrage of a few party stalwarts with litmus tests to determine whether you’re a “RINO” (“Republican in Name Only”) was enough to dampen enthusiasm for moderate candidates and prospective candidates alike. To be certain, a moderate Republican is not only a Republican, they are the only viable Republican candidate in Massachusetts.
As a result, we – commonsense, moderate Massachusetts Republicans – find ourselves with a state party operation with anemic finances, diminished stature, and dismal infrastructure that has abjectly failed in its sole mission: getting more Republicans elected.
Robust party organizations field stronger candidates who then make for competitive contests. This past election cycle, however, we didn’t find that. The gubernatorial contest was never competitive. Had it been, Gov.-elect Maura Healey would have been forced to be more detailed about her platform and pressed to provide answers for what she would do if elected to office. Instead, the current political landscape allowed Healey to coast to victory on platitudes and few specifics. Such was the case with nearly every other statewide Democratic candidate. All of us, including Democrats, should expect more, because it will make all candidates better, regardless of party affiliation.
Going forward, unless and until Massachusetts Republicans can reestablish ourselves in the eyes of voters as the commonsense, practical problem solvers so many of us are, the current elections trajectory won’t change.
I’m confident most voters want two-party governance on Beacon Hill. We, as moderate Republicans, need to lead the charge to show the electorate the mainstream voices we can offer as an important counterbalance at the table of Massachusetts governing. Only then can we expect to earn more seats at that table. Otherwise, allowing the Mass GOP to continue to bring the Republican name down the current path will soon lead to extinction. And, to answer the signature question of a certain politician, no, we’re not tired of winning. We’re tired of losing.
Ed Dombroski, a family law attorney and Wakefield town councilor, was a Republican candidate for state Senate in the Fifth Middlesex District in the November election.