When Baker leaves office Thursday, he will be replaced by a Democrat — Maura Healey, the state attorney general who beat Trump-endorsed Republican nominee Geoff Diehl by nearly 30 points. Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, once Baker’s heir apparent, is also quitting, leaving Republicans to hold no elected state or federal office. The party’s share of registered voters in the state fell below 9%, and its legislative minority shrank further.
Again, Baker cautions against publishing an obituary for the state’s GOP, saying the party has overcome leadership vacuums in the past.
“Democracies don’t really like one-party rule for many reasons,” Baker, who chose not to seek a third term, said in an interview. “I think it is unwise to write [the party off].”
But first, Republicans need to stop sabotaging themselves. Baker’s longstanding feud with state GOP Chairman Jim Lyons, a hardline pro-Trump conservative who has led the party since 2019, has left Republicans so strapped for cash and so shackled by infighting that ‘they barely conduct business at state committee meetings, let alone win elections.
The Democratic takeover of Beacon Hill could unite Republicans against a common enemy. And that, combined with the party leadership election in late January, could offer reset Republicans on both sides of the thirst for intraparty division.
“I see a huge opportunity without having a governor, really,” Jennifer Nassour, a Baker ally who chaired the state’s GOP during Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick’s tenure, said in an interview. “When you don’t have a governor, you can build your own thing.”
Massachusetts’ GOP recalibration offers one of the first glimpses into how the party’s post-midterm reckoning is playing out at the state level — and just how complicated it can be.
The Bay State’s Republican divide does not neatly fracture along ideological lines. Nor can it be categorized solely as a split between those who supported Trump, like Lyons, and those who didn’t, like Baker.
Disagreements over the direction of the party after Trump are on the rise. But his cracks are also fueled by deeply personal rebukes and legal battles over his finances.
Lyons has called for a federal investigation into party spending under Baker allies and prosecuted those he says are trying to sabotage it. He led a campaign to oust one of his enemies, Ron Kaufman, as treasurer of the Republican National Committee before Kaufman, a member of the Massachusetts National Committee, decided not to seek another term.
Those frustrated with Lyon’s leadership have walked out of state committee meetings to deny him the quorum he needs to pass a budget – to which Lyon responded by suing the party’s treasurer for blocking access to his Bank account. Howie Carr, the state’s most prominent conservative radio host and columnist, turned on him.
Baker asked Lyon to step down for over a year. Lyons told the moderate Republican, who has alienated a faction of his party by his agreement with the Democratic-controlled Legislature and his contempt for Trump, to “reconsider his party affiliation.”
The infighting resulted in Republicans effectively fielding two lists of candidates in last year’s election.
Both largely lost. And each side blames the other.
Lyon supporters criticize Baker and his allies for refusing to support Diehl while campaigning for a more like-minded Republican for the listener. They say Baker hasn’t done enough to build the party’s pew and bristle at a donor-funded super PAC that backs centrist Democrats as well as Republicans.
“I understand [Diehl] was not going to win this election. But there was a time when we all supported our candidate because it was the will of the party,” said Todd Taylor, a Lyon ally on the state committee and Chelsea councilor who lost his campaign for the job of state representative last fall, in an interview. . “We can’t let people sabotage from within.”
Baker supporters criticize Lyons for leading the party in a hard-right, Trumpian direction that proved unsellable in solidly blue Massachusetts — where Trump suffered some of his worst general election losses — and for alienating the donors in the process. They also balk at his use of limited party resources to fund his various lawsuits.
In an interview last week in his ceremonial office at the State House, Baker said it was “important to take stock of where the party is, what happened and what happened. have to do about it.”
But Baker, who is focused on his next job as NCAA president, offers no solutions to fix the state’s GOP. He wants the party president to be “someone who wants to win elections”. But he said he had no intention of backing anyone for the job.
“Parties are supposed to win elections, which helps to govern and hold the other party accountable,” Baker said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Before it can win the election, key players on both sides of the intra-partisan feud say the party’s next president will first have to unite its moderate and far-right factions.
Lyons has still not officially announced that he will seek a third term as president, although he is expected to do so. He will face more moderate rivals – his vice-president, Jay Fleitman; state committee member Amy Carnevale; former Republican City Committee Chairman Jon Fetherston and consultant Christopher Lyon – who are sounding the alarm about the future of the party if it can no longer appeal across party lines.
Carnevale, a Baker-Trump voter who lost her bid to represent the state in the RNC, is seen as Lyon’s main competitor and, therefore, a new target in her legal battles. She’s built a coalition of high-profile Republicans who she says are willing to work with her to recruit candidates and bring back donors who dropped out of the party under Lyon, including former Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, the former GOP U.S. Senate candidate Beth Lindstrom and Polito, the incumbent Lt. Governor.
Yet even as she touts her support in the Baker world, Carnevale said she is not seeking his approval for the party presidency.
“Governor Baker is no longer in office. And focusing on him or the people who supported him doesn’t help our party and our candidates,” she said in an interview. “We just have to move on and start a new chapter. We need to change the dynamic in how we think about the party.
Amanda Orlando, Diehl’s campaign manager and Lyons-allied state committee member, is also hoping for a post-Baker reset that includes more outreach to independents who make up more than 60% of voters in the state. But for her, that means letting Lyon lead ‘without the constant interference’ of their critics.
“Democrats will support a candidate. They don’t stay home. They don’t get angry and take their toys out of the sandbox. They accept that a primary is happening and someone has won and that’s who they’re behind,” Orlando said. “Unfortunately, we don’t.”