THE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS in the Massachusetts Senate, which was already down to six lawmakers, will now have just enough members to pop open a card table for a game of bridge. Which they might as well just do, for all the clout they’ll be wielding in the 40-person chamber.
Democrats grabbed two Senate seats previously held by Republicans in special elections on Tuesday, adding insult to an already badly injured state GOP that shows no signs of life — or of having a clue how it might claw its way back to relevance.
In the South Shore/Cape Cod district, Democrat Susan Moran of Falmouth beat Republican Jay McMahon of Bourne to capture the seat recently vacated by GOP senator Vinny deMacedo. Moran took 55 percent of the vote to McMahon’s 45 percent, flipping back a seat for Democrats that was once held by former Senate president Therese Murray.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Rep. John Velis of Westfield trounced Republican businessman John Cain of Southwick to take the Senate seat vacated by Republican Donald Humason when he was elected mayor of Westfield. Preliminary results showed Velis thumping Cain nearly 2-to-1.
An easy conclusion to draw is that Mass. Republicans are being dragged down by the toxic brand Donald Trump has created for their party in the state. The president is wildly unpopular in Massachusetts, something Never-Trump Gov. Charlie Baker seems to understand well as he continues to defy the state’s increasingly blue hue with sky-high popularity ratings.
But the view of the state Republican Party here seems akin to the adage that the beatings will continue until morale improves.
While Baker has found lots of running room by separating himself from Trump, the GOP’s two Senate fall guys both joined themselves at the hip to a president whose handling of the coronavirus crisis meets with approval from only 25 percent of Massachusetts residents.
“He wants people to work hard,” Cain said of Trump in a recent interview with the Springfield Republican. “He wants Americans to be treated right and to be taken care of because we have been getting the short end of the stick on a lot of things internationally, which a lot of politicians were afraid to bring light to.” Meanwhile, a group called United Cape Patriots planned a sign-waving standout last Saturday at the Bourne Bridge rotary in support of both McMahon and Trump.
State Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford declared Tuesday’s outcome “a bad night for Donald Trump,” and said in a statement that the two flipped seats were a sign of what’s to come in November.
The results seem to represent a big flashing warning to the state GOP that riding the Trump train in Massachusetts means chugging right toward the cliff.
But there’s little indication that Mass. GOP chairman Jim Lyons, a big Trump backer who is working hard to pull the party to the right, thinks any course correction is in order.
“We are disappointed,” he tweeted last night. But he then seemed to just parrot the president’s MAGA talking points. “The radical Democrats are committed to fundamentally change our country. We are committed to Keep America Great.”
His characterization of the opposition, which takes a page from the national GOP playbook, seems out of step with the Springfield Republican’s description of Velis as a “moderate Democrat.” Velis told the paper, “I don’t do this partisan nonsense. It’s not in my DNA, I categorically reject it.”
Earlier this month Lyons told State House News Service that the party sees opportunities for victory in a couple of upcoming special elections for House seats as well as in several state rep contests this fall — when Trump will be on a ballot.
But judging from Tuesday’s results nationalizing these local legislative races only seems to play into Democrats’ hands. It may be a bitter pill to recognize the wisdom of a Democratic icon, but Lyons and the state GOP in particular might do well to remember Tip O’Neill’s axiom that all politics is local.