The history of the Massachusetts GOP is a relatively normal one for a northeastern state. Massachusetts was one of the strongest Republican states out of the gate, and the transition to Democratic stronghold (at least federally) only truly began in the 1920s. The many immigrants that had made Boston their home started voting for Democrats at high levels. This urban strength, combined with a strength with Catholic voters, made most of Massachusetts a sudden Democratic stronghold federally by the 1960s. The dominance of the Kennedy machine didn’t help matters either.
The 80s did see Ronald Reagan carry the state in both of his Presidential bids, but that did not lead to a new era for Massachusetts Republicans federally. Even with Bill Weld’s election to Governor in 1990, also eliminating the Democratic legislative supermajorities, Republicans were shut out of the commonwealth’s congressional delegation. Republicans took back two seats in 1992, but by 1996, were shut out again. They have yet to win a congressional district since.
Modern Day struggles
Federally, bar Scott Brown’s stunning upset in 2010, Massachusetts Republicans have had no hope. Their vote total continues to bleed, especially as nationwide GOP losses in the suburbs have doubly hurt in a very suburban state.
At the state level though, the Massachusetts GOP had been relatively successful. They successfully used the old style “Yankee Republicanism” to recruit moderate candidates for the handful of competitive legislative districts and in gubernatorial races. In fact, from Bill Weld’s first election in 1990, only eight of the last 32 years have seen a Democrat as Governor, the lone one being Deval Patrick. Moderates like Weld, Mitt Romney, and current Governor Charlie Baker dominated the environment for decades.
However, recently this has all collapsed. This collapse can be pointed to the election of one man as state chair.
The Jim Lyons Problem
In 2019, former State Rep. Jim Lyons was elected Massachusetts GOP chair. What has happened since has been a comedy of errors in running a blue state GOP. Many words that I’ve been told by Massachusetts Republicans to describe Lyons ares one I cannot print here. Words I can include those like “jerk”, “fool”, and “moron”. Lyons has allowed for the party to embrace many policy ideas that just do not work in one of the bluest states in the nation. Lyons has also been accused of discrimination against Asian-Americans. One of his biggest errors, though, was him defending comments against a gay Republican candidate. The aftermath of that saw multiple national Republicans, specifically Dan Crenshaw and Cynthia Lummis, drop out of attending key fundraisers.
Money has been a key problem under Lyons’s reign as well. The state’s campaign finance watchdog actually recommended the party to the state AG office as multiple transfers could be considered “criminal in nature”. Lyons also was key in pushing out Charlie Baker, leading to his decision to not run for a third term.
Republicans in Massachusetts now have Geoff Diehl as their nominee. Diehl is a major supporter of President Trump and has backed the former President’s false claims of election fraud in the 2020 election. That is not a combination that works in Massachusetts by any means. With this now in mind, it seems Massachusetts Republicans are set to be stuck in their existing superminority, this time without even the benefit of a Governor to block controversial bills. It’s the final blow to what started as one of the strongholds of the Republican Party. As the party changed though, Massachusetts only became a harder pull, and now it’s set to be totally out of reach.