Tuesday, in the MassGOP Senate Primary, Democrat and conservative Republican activists were united: they were counting on Mike Sullivan to win, validating the image of the Massachusetts Republican party as conservative, uncompromising, and in opposition to the mainstream of liberal Massachusetts’ politics.
Fortunately, John Walsh and Red Mass Group did not get their way. Both saw their nightmare scenario: a moderate, who pledged to work with Democrats, was chosen.
But what happened yesterday isn’t just about our choice for Senate. It’s much bigger than that. Yesterday, the majority of Republican activists went to the polls and crushed the perceived dominance of social conservatives in the party culture. We no longer need to fear them. Moderates and pragmatic conservatives throughout the party can now say that we are the majority. RMG, Michael Graham, and Fox News do not speak for the party in this state. As Dan Winslow said, Massachusetts Republicans are a different breed than the national Republicans. For the social conservatives that are the same breed as the national Republicans, they have been crushed. Thank God!
Let me review why I think this is true:
1. First things first: “socons” versus social conservatives. Two different things.
2. Mike Sullivan was the ideal candidate for socons. How could he lose?
3. Have the socons dominated the MassGOP? How?
4. Gabriel Gomez – ringleader of the MassGOP’s new Big Tent
1. “Socons” versus social conservatives
First, there is nothing wrong with being socially conservative. There is great dignity and integrity in presuming that things that have worked should get the benefit of the doubt and that change should be justified. Also, even in a socially liberal state, it is possible to be wise and make contributions to a wide variety of political debates on how we should live our lives. Social conservatives should be a part of the Republican coalition, as they have been part of the party for a long time. I try to be one of these worthy conservatives.
But we all know there is a special kind of activist social conservative that does not draw his inspiration from the tradition going back to Edmund Burke; a tradition that questions new things, but one that compromises with massive social change and is thoughtful about the issues. No, this new breed of social conservative activist is someone we often call a “socon.” This guy’s identity is a self-righteous declaration of social conservatism based on roughly four things: opposition to abortion, gay rights, gun control, and comprehensive immigration reform. They are not interested in facts. They don’t respect the other side. They don’t care if they live in a place that disagrees. They “talk the talk” about other issues mattering, but if you cross them on one of the big four, you are a RINO – or a Democrat. (Michael Graham does this all the time on his show.)
These people are corrosive to the viability of the MassGOP, because they are the Republicans that people all over Massachusetts see on television and dislike immensely.
And on Tuesday, their ugly campaign to trash Gabriel Gomez utterly failed.
2. Mike Sullivan was their savior.
Social conservatives and socons know their beliefs are not universally held in this state, and other than blaming everyone else for this, they have been looking for their “knight in shining armor” to gain high office, someone of stature who is both fiscally and socially conservative who will not compromise.
Mike Sullivan was that guy. A distinguished public servant who has impeccable character and has defended America. Someone who goes to church, is completely opposed to abortion, doesn’t approve of gay marriage, is against all current gun control measures, and doesn’t want “amnesty” for illegals. He had a ready base of support, and activists mobilized for him. The special election primary was perfect for him as lots of ordinary Republicans wouldn’t even show up to vote. Even better, a last-minute terrorism attack would not only play to his strengths as a defender against terrorism, but he would get free TV air time for days. In fact, his appearances on cable news for a week probably ended up being a significant chunk of Gomez’s paid TV ad time. (Even I didn’t attack his character or record. I praised him. I only attacked the idea he could win a general.)
Yet. He. Lost.
Not only did he lose, he lost 2-1. That’s right. The social conservatives, who think they are the center of the party, found out that they only could muster 1/3 of the vote in a turnout model that couldn’t be more favorable to them. They, of course, saw the letter from Gomez to Governor Patrick, and decided his candidacy was over. RMG and Michael Graham discarded the candidacy. Gomez was a Democrat. An Obama-lover. Of course, no one could possibly see the letter and vote for him. It was over.
Here is what I wrote in Facebook on March 14 after the letter appeared and the socons rejected him:
“…many activists now think the Gomez campaign is over because they think it is over. They will be surprised to learn that he goes on, buys lots of ads, and that most Republicans have still not even heard of him, or the other two. When they do hear of him, it will be from an ad he bought. The scandal around the letter will affect mostly a group of a few thousand activists who would not have voted for him anyway. Red Mass Group will scream about this, but RMG really has little impact on anything. After all, this is the site that had two-dozen front page stories about what a “fraud” Elizabeth Warren was, everyone there said she was going to lose, and she won by 8 points.”
Of course, I was right. Why? Because I don’t live in the activist bubble like many of the writers here. I saw the Gomez surge a few weeks out. I knew it was coming together. I knew the timing was perfect for a guy like Gomez. I love Dan Winslow, but I saw what was happening.
3. But what social conservative dominance?
I know that some socially conservative friends of mine – like State Committeeman Brock Cordiero – might ask, “What dominance? Nobody put us in charge.” (He has said this to me before. Oh – and I really like Brock. He isn’t the problem. He’s the kind of smart social conservative activist the party needs. At no point did he join in or endorse the ugliness of the RMG crowd against Gomez. He’s too smart to write people off because they don’t agree with him.)
Here is my answer: the social conservative activists are a minority in the party, but they are abetted by two things: the national party is a lot like them, and so is right-wing media. The state is flooded with messages from the national party and the conservatives on TV, and the social conservatives here are powerful and influential because of that air support. As pragmatic people have fled the GOP brand during the past 15 years, their influence has grown. Unfortunately, because of this situation, the average voter can’t help but think that the MassGOP is just like the national GOP. The Globe today, in a wonderful story about Gomez, put it perfectly:
Republicans running in Massachusetts face the perennial problem of being married in voters’ minds to the more conservative members of their national party.
Even the socons who know they are in the minority want to be the core. Here is a conversation I had last year with a very well-known activist who posts here from time to time. (I will call him, “Fred”)
“Fred, we need a big tent.”
“We tried that. It didn’t work.”
“The party can’t just be people like us. We will never win.”
“We… can have a big tent. But we [social conservatives] must be the center pole.”
“No one will want to come into the tent if you are at the center.”
“We are the activists. We are the grassroots. We must be at the center.”
“Where is Richard Tisei in this tent. Is there room for him?”
(Laughs) “Richard… is maybe a tassel hanging off the outside of the tent.”
Now, good people like Brock will disagree with that. (But Brock also believes that the platform committee of the State Committee should add a pro-life plank to the MassGOP’s platform. He sees it as a matter of principle. I see it as an impediment to winning in the most pro-choice state in America. Let the platform be silent and let candidates do their own thing.)
Ultimately, the socons believe they are the center of the party. When they turn on Fox News, read conservative blogs, listen to Michael Graham, or check out RMG, everything confirms that belief. (The unenrolled voters, perusing the same media, come to the same incorrect conclusion and we must stop them from believing that!)
But as of Tuesday, we now know they are not the center.
4.Gabriel Gomez – ringleader of the MassGOP’s new Big Tent
65% of primary voters in a very low turnout election opted for someone other than a great conservative man like Mike Sullivan. They voted for moderation. They voted for a chance to win in June. They voted for Winslow and Gomez – both an anathema to social conservatives.
But most of them voted for Gabriel Gomez – who so enraged social conservatives that the editors of this blog front-paged a string of nasty, suspicious, rants, ending with a “poll” where you could click one choice and agree. Grow. Up. The fact that their overall Sullivan endorsement was of more moderate tone was irrelevant. After trashing Gomez so badly, to say that you hope he stays in Republican politics was totally insincere and patronizing. If you think anyone but the socon flock gives a damn who you endorse, you need to get out more.
We now have a new ringleader of the MassGOP’s big tent: Gabriel Gomez. He doesn’t hate President Obama – like most people who live here. He will work with Democrats in the Senate, unlike man-child Senator Cruz. He can gain the support of Hispanics and gays, as he doesn’t upset them. He will welcome great citizens like Richard Tisei into the tent, not hang them on the outside.
Gomez’s identity, style, and positions are some of the medicine this party needs. The press is giving him a serious look. All across the country, moderate, sensible Republicans who are alienated by the wacko birds down in Washington, D.C. will see him and say, “Of course! Massachusetts is the state has produced a reasonable, charismatic, Hispanic Republican!” (Hopefully they will find the donation link on his website.) Had we picked a doomed social conservative, they would have scratched their heads and thought we were nuts.
I don’t know if Gomez will win. The odds are really against him. He will need lots of money and media and new voters. But for now, the MassGOP has a big tent and a charismatic ringleader at the center.
Even if he fails, we know that we no longer need to fear the socons who want to be at the center of an empty tent. Sure, right-wing media will continue to make it seem like they are the entire party. But thanks to Winslow and Gomez, we now know they are not the entire party. Their feared activists are not to be feared anymore. We will never again see a serious statewide Republican candidate be against abortion or gay marriage or immigration reform. That’s all over now. Thank God.
The big tent is open now! Let’s welcome everyone in, including the social conservatives who can respectfully debate the issues, and make contributions. Even I will be quite nice to them, because as a pro-life Catholic, I am certainly one of them. 🙂