Mass. GOP lawmakers looking beyond Trump in wide open presidential field
By State House News Service | August 14, 2015, 20:54 EST
Written by Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE — Four years ago, the choice was a lot simpler. Dozens of Massachusetts Republican politicians lined up behind the state’s former governor — Mitt Romney — as he mounted his second campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, and eventually the White House.
The 2016 campaign for president on the Republican side is proving to be a far more complicated menu to navigate, a bursting field of candidates with no direct or obvious ties to Massachusetts, let alone serving as its chief executive.
“I’m still keeping my options open,” said Rep. James Kelcourse, an Amesbury Republican, dripping wet after having just joined Gov. Charlie Baker in the Ice Bucket Challenge. “I’d love to see a leader like our governor up there. He’s doing an excellent job and I think somebody like him would do a terrific job as our president. That’s the type of leadership I’m looking for.”
Expressed in more than a dozen interviews with Republican lawmakers on Beacon Hill, many of party’s elected leaders are biding their time before settling on a candidate they hope will carry the GOP mantle into the general election next year.
More than any specific policy plan for the economy or illegal immigration — two hot-button issues so far in the race — lawmakers said they were looking for someone with leadership qualities who could unite the party.
Some House and Senate members also expressed their hope that Massachusetts — with its March 1 primary coming on “Super Tuesday” when 12 states will cast votes — will play a greater role than in past cycles, helping to winnow the field and attract the attention of candidates in the process. Massachusetts voters will go to the polls next year after only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
“I’m looking forward to the fact that the Massachusetts primary is a little earlier this year. With this big of a race, it’s great for us,” Rep. Shawn Dooley said. “I anticipate there still being eight to 10 significant candidates still in the mix by the time it gets to Massachusetts, so we’ll get to see them, hear them, meet them and get to know them.”
THE TRUMP FACTOR
It’s impossible to discuss Republican presidential politics these days without talking about real estate mogul Donald Trump.
The brash, blunt-talking millionaire is leading in most major polls, including in New Hampshire where a Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce survey released this week showed Trump ahead of his closest competitor — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — by five points with 18 percent support.
Trump’s style and ability to generate headlines, however, has not been a hit with many Bay State Republican politicians.
Gov. Charlie Baker, in a radio interview on Thursday, criticized Trump, who has been in the news for days after initiating a spat with Fox News host Megyn Kelly over her pointed questioning during the debate. In the aftermath, Trump has made several comments considered to be disparaging toward women.
Though Baker has been reluctant to share his opinions on national politics in great detail, and is unlikely to endorse before the general election, he served up a pointed admonishment of Trump on Boston Public Radio.
“I was raised by my parents, you know, in a certain way and I find a lot of those comments to be reprehensible, outrageous and ridiculous, and I wish he would take them back,” Baker said.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones is equally unimpressed with his party’s surging frontrunner at the moment.
“To me, Donald Trump is the letter to the editor you write late at night and hopefully put in your top drawer and never send,” said Jones, who called himself “not the biggest Trump fan.”
Rep. Keiko Orrall, of Lakeville, said she foresees “a lot of issues with diplomacy that could arise with a Trump presidency” and takes exception to his “unfiltered” and “abrasive” style.
“I take great offense to the things he’s said about women and minorities, and it is a very unfortunate position that he’s put us in,” she said of Trump. “I find it unbelievable that he is out in front because he is saying things that are not Republican; they’re not Republican values.”
Despite what Trump says, some Republicans said they think the way he says things has been refreshing to voters who are fed up with stiff, scripted politicians, and has shifted the debate to some topics other candidates may have preferred not to discuss.
“I think people are tired of some of the political correctness as shown by the numbers that he’s attracted. They want to hear what someone has to say instead of tempering their remarks to fit the situation,” Rep. Steven Howitt said. “With him in the race, he’s brought out issues to be discussed because he’s not afraid to not bring them up. He’s forcing a number of issues to be on the forefront of discussion, not only for Republicans but for Democrats as well.”
To describe the infatuation the public and the media seem to have with Trump, Howitt referenced a line from the 1997 Howard Stern biopic “Private Parts,” in which a radio station consultant tells the provocative radio show host that both his fans and detractors admit to listening to the show “to see what he’ll say next.”
Rep. David Muradian, of Grafton, said this phenomenon, regardless of voters’ opinions of Trump, could be good for the party. The first GOP presidential debate in Cleveland last week became the most watched primary debate in television history.
“I was hoping that individuals might tune in to the GOP debate to see what has become the spectacle of Donald Trump while learning about all the candidates,” he said.
Dooley said he is most concerned about Trump’s unwillingness to unconditionally support whoever receives the GOP nomination and his “if I don’t get my own way I’m going to take my ball and go home” attitude.
Nonetheless, Dooley said he will attend a Trump event hosted later this month by car dealership mogul Ernie Boch Jr.
“He is definitely interesting,” Dooley said. “I’m sure I will not be disappointed in getting to meet him and hearing what he has to say. That being said, I won’t pull any punches. If he asks me for my opinions, I’ll be happy to share them.”
Jones, a North Reading Republican, said he views the 2016 Republican presidential primary as the first “open” GOP primary for Massachusetts Republicans since 2000. President George W. Bush was running for re-election in 2004 and Romney was a candidate in both 2008 and 2012.
Even in 2000 when Bush mounted his first run for president, Rep. Jay Barrows of Mansfield said the Bush family ties ran deep in Massachusetts stemming from the administration of his father. Andrew Card, the former House lawmaker who now sits as president of Franklin Pierce College, worked for both Bush’s in the White House.
This year, though, none of the Republican candidates have strong ties to the state, leaving Bay State Republicans to take their pick from a field of 17 presidential hopefuls. And even though there’s another Bush in the field, who is backed by state National Committeeman Ron Kaufman, a former Romney advisor, there has been no sprint to support him.
Maybe surprisingly, it’s another Florida politician who is drawing a number of early commitments from Bay State Republicans.
“I’m with Marco Rubio,” said Sen. Vinny deMacedo. “I just think he’s someone that can bring people together. He articulates the American dream better than anyone I’ve seen since Ronald Reagan.”
DeMacedo, a Plymouth Republican born in Cape Verde, said he’s heard Rubio speak about his father emigrating from Cuba, and how in just one generation the son is running for president of the United States.
“Maybe I’m just biased being an immigrant myself, but I feel that his message about hopefulness and inclusion will give the Republican candidate an opportunity to be successful in 2016,” deMacedo said.
Sen. Ryan Fattman and Reps. Orrall and Dooley also told the News Service they are Rubio supporters. Rep. Jim Lyons hosted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in May at his house in Andover, but did not return a call seeking to confirm his support for Cruz, and Sen. Robert Hedlund, who is running his own mayoral campaign in Weymouth, has long expressed his admiration for Sen. Rand Paul.
National Committeewoman Chanel Prunier also backs Paul, but said she’s been impressed as well with Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Rubio. Calling Trump a “flash in the pan” who will likely burn out by September, she nevertheless gave him credit for tapping into discontent within the grassroots of the party.
“There’s a sense among Republican voters that our nominee should be someone more authentic and direct, who isn’t marching in lock step with the party’s establishment,” Prunier said in an email to the News Service. “Personally, I’m supporting US Senator Rand Paul, who is a conservative that consistently outperforms other Republican contenders against Hillary Clinton. He leads Hillary in five swing states – Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, states Obama won twice. I also feel he can tap into some of that discontent and desire for authenticity that is driving Trump’s campaign right now.”
Jones, who said he does not support any single candidate at this point, said the GOP field “covers the spectrum of the party to a pretty good extent,” though he added that it is “probably too big.”
“I think it changes the way someone campaigns,” Jones said of the number of candidates. “You can make the argument that, theoretically, someone can win the Iowa caucus with 20 percent or 15 percent of the vote if everything is split.”
Barrows said he had the opportunity to meet Ohio Gov. John Kasich a few weeks ago as the governor passed through Boston on his way to New Hampshire and left impressed.
Others noted what they considered to be strong performances during the first debates by former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s familiarly to many Bay State pols through his work with the Republican Governors Association could be a factor when it comes time to decide.
“I just want us to regain focus. I don’t understand all the hubbub on the national stage about Trump. It’s amazing to me. What has he said besides derogatory comments about everybody?” Barrows asked. “We just need somebody that can lead and bring people together.”
Copyright State House News Service