Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Creating daylight: Advice for the Mass GOP

Over at Hub Blog, we're seeing some reflection on the future of the New England Republican party, particularly James Peyser's suggestions in the Boston Globe. There are many, many suggestions for how to make the Massachusetts GOP relevant after an election where they somehow found an additional three State House seats to lose, due to retirements. Here is a list from CW via HubBlog, as well as my rather sarcastic list from September.

I will take a second to doff my sarcastic approach to the little children of Massachusetts politics to offer sincere advice. There is nothing healthy about a one-party democracy, and after the 2008 elections, the Massachusetts Republican Party is feeling awfully close to being a fake party. Below are four pieces of advice to bring back some semblance of true democracy in Massachusetts.

Change the name:
I join HubBlog in seconding Peyser's suggestions of the a name change for the Mass GOP. It is rare, but not unknown, for regional parties to have a different name than their national big brother. HB mentions the example of the Minnesota Democrats, named the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL. I would add the Saskatchewan Conservatives, who call themselves the Saskatchewan Party, and even have different colors than their federal cognate. There is no doubt, however, on whose side the Sask Party works.

I prefer "Independent Republican Party". First of all, the natural voter bloc for the Republicans would be conservative voters unenrolled in either party who nonetheless vote for the Democrats they know in their region. New England is heavy on unenrolled voters who like to think that they are independent, and this name would appeal to them. A change in name is good, as is updating that elephnatine logo, and these are both elements in an important step: running from the national party at top speed.

Distance yourself as much as achievable from the national party. This is from whom Massachusetts Republicans are "Independent" -- the morons in Washington, DC. Things may well only get worse on the national level, as the national GOP moderates continue to get whittled down in elections. Chris Shays, John Sununu, and Randy Kuhl are three Republican moderates who lost last week. The party's national face is going to get more Southern, more religious, and more conservative. It's astonishing how many conservative thinkers are preaching a "back to basics" approach of going more conservative at a time when that is the exact opposite of what voters want. As has been said by people more informed than me, Nixon and Reagan would struggle to pass the current litmus tests in the national party.

The national party isn't going to help out too many New England Republicans, aside from possibly Judd Gregg and the three GOP governors in New England. A New England Renaissance is a tough sell, not least of all as electoral votes and Congressional seats open up in the South and West, not here. So why stay nice to national Republicans -- so you can bask in continuing the traditions of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush? That's won't work here. Just as we had the spectacle of the president going into hiding in the last two weeks of the campaign, and Republican Senators skipping their own party's convention, NE Republicans need to keep this up. Photo ops with McCain, Palin, Huckabee, the new RNC Chair, etc., are not your friend. Questions on national party politics aren't your concern. If you are going to run for office, don't skittle down to Washington, DC for orders/advice as Ogonowski did -- that was going to bite him later, coming across as John Ensign's puppet. Keep them at arm's length, as publicly as you dare. Look at Gordon Smith, who ran campaign ads declaring his friendships with Obama and Kerry in order to preserve his Oregon Senate seat. Be like him.

The best strategy is to avoid any connection between you as a New England Republican in the Chaffee/Rockefeller tradition, and those reactionaries in Washington, DC.
You don't necessarily have to attack national Republicans (not a bad idea, though) but you do want to keep your distance. I offer two examples: Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City, who have both proven great at finding daylight with national Democrats while still upholding their values. Anderson publicly declared that he did not vote for Kerry in 2004, while at the same time organizing a large anti-Bush rally in his city. And check out this Western conservative on Freudenthal's latest "state of the state" speech:

Gov Freudenthal was quick to point out the difference between state level politics and national level politics. In fact he brought it up a few times. While there may be a place for bipartisanship, there is also a place for partisanship...My jaw nearly hit the floor when I heard these words from Gov. Freudenthal (D-WY):..."Ronald Reagan, before he was president, spoke for many of us when he said, 'I still believe that the government is best which remains closest to the people, but almost daily the Goliath that is the federal government moves to gather more power unto itself.' We under the gold dome are not yet as bad as Washington, D.C...."

Quoting the late great Ronald Reagan? Well, he did used to be a Democrat. To clarify, I have no problems with the governor quoting Ronald Reagan.

He's got props from this conservative blogger, and he also did some work to try to help Democrats capture the At-Large Wyoming Congressional seat.

I'd suggest forming some sort of organization with a moderate, American name: The New England Partnership, or the Committee to Preserve New England Values, something like that. This organization would provide a banner under which New England Republicans can meet around the region. Have summits on cross-party issues such as immigration, or gambling. Invite Lincoln Chaffee, Jim Jeffords, Colin Powell, or Michale Bloomberg to speak. Basically, try to establish a high-profile regional operation that is emphatically different from the national Republican Party. During high-profile Republican national events, hold a New England Partnership summit/meeting as a counterbalance. Show that there is a large group of Republicans here who want nothing to do with the national party, and who are seeking other, different ideas.

Publicly search your soul. During the primary/caucus stage, it's usually a fair idea to have contrite concession speeches to give the idea that you "learned your lesson" and will go back to figure out why voters didn't like you. A name change or a new regional organization are good steps to this, but spending from know until Christmas publicly mulling your future is a good way to go. Hopefully, the contest for chairmanship of the Mass. GOP will be part of that process. Same attempt will net same result.

My last tip: get realistic. It's astounding after the latest humiliation, one common subject over at Red Mass Group is who should run for any possible open US Senate seat. On something of that scale, from fundraising to organization, from issues to tactics, any Republican candidate is going to get steamrolled. "Ashburnham" nails it, I think, when s/he says

I am a registered Republican and I have worked hard to run for office as a Republican and I have also worked hard on campaigns of others.

I have almost had it with this state party, however. If the Mass GOP dedicates all of its resources on ANOTHER kamikazee race for U.S. Senate, I will quit the party.

Why not take all the money that will be wasted on such tilts at windmills and dedicate it toward winning local Selectmen, City Council and State Rep races???????????

The real power in this state is housed in the legislature, NOT the governor's office or even the Congress. There is power in Congress, obviously, but we are a good generation away from making a dent at that level.

Let's walk before we run, shall we?

Agreed, Ashburnham. The GOP isn't going to get an open Senate seat. You have people like Ed Markey who have been drooling over that seat for a decade or more, and they aren't going to lose it to some Republican sacrifice. When state parties recover, such as Montana or Colorado Democrats, the US Senate is often the last target they shoot for, after state legislature, Congress, and the governorship. That is because it's the hardest to flip -- more than any other job, a Senator is working for/with the national party, regardless of the state that s/he represents, and the voters know that.

I'm not a big fan of politicizing selectmen, but that is any state party's farm team. Look at state reps, county offices. You need to run twice to get elected: be prepared for that. Mass Republicans need to think small, and think realistic. Bill Weld had the right idea when he obtained a margin in the State House to preserve his vetoes.

This is going to be a long, rough process. But with some intelligence, Massachusetts Republicans, and their New England brethren, can recover. It won't hurt to have Massachusetts Democrats making fools of themselves, but the Mass. GOP still hasn't found a way to capitalize on that. Despite what I've said, there are few magic bullets, but sitting around trying the same failed approach is not going to help anyway. But a smart, realistic approach could lead to enough gains to claim momentum. Massachusetts needs a real opposition, and right now, we don't have any.


Peter Porcupine said...

You, and Mr. Peyser, do not wish us well. Why on earth would we follow your advice?

Truth is, the primary 'link' between Mass. GOP and the national party is the unrelenting attempt of organs like to Boston Globe to link Republican County Commissioner candidates with the War in Iraq and reproductive rights! We are, and have always been, more moderate and independent - you and your ilk have simply chosen to ceaselessly beat the Karl Rove drum, and distort that reality.

Now - you have no scapegoats anymore. Your Speaker is heading for indictment, and five percent of the Mass. Senate is headed for jail. NOW you want to help us?

Build us up so you can blame us later?

Miss the day of those Romney-Swift 'cuts'? Now YOU have to take responsibiltiy for necessary budget changes that your special-interst masters squak about? And they don't LIKE you anymore, and are beginning to suspect that every time you pointed your finger at the Governor, maybe it WAS you all along?

My heart bleeds for you.

Quriltai said...

The only thing your tantrum demonstrated, PP, is how much of a dead-end the Republicans in this state are devoted to being. Just try not to act too surprised as it keeps happening.