Charlie Baker, Donald Trump and the Future of the Massachusetts GOP

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GEORGETOWN, Mass. — With a little less than two weeks left until Republican State Committee members vote to decide on whether to retain Quincy’s Kirsten Hughes as party chairman, one person was noticeably absent from Thursday night’s candidate’s forum:  Hughes.

Sources close to Hughes said the event, sponsored by the Georgetown Republican Town Committee, was advertised without her input and that Hughes had previously scheduled family commitment that conflicted with the forum.

That left Hughes’s challenger, Steve Aylward of Watertown, the lone candidate to speak at the closed-door event.

The future of Hughes’s chairmanship will be decided on Wednesday, January 25, by the 80 elected members of the MassGOP.

The forum, held at a pizza restaurant adjacent to the Black Swan Country Club, lasted over two hours. Aylward spoke to a New Boston Post reporter after the event and said he was “energized” by the atmosphere inside the room. Aylward added that he spent a large chunk of time talking about his “from the ground up” plan (a full copy of which is attached to the bottom of this story) to revitalize the state GOP, which calls for a commitment to “challenge every legislative seat possible” and “never accept the premise ‘this is Massachusetts’ and Republicans cannot win in great numbers.”

“There’s a lot of momentum now,” Aylward said, referring to President-elect Donald Trump’s upset victory in November. “This is the most important race that’s going on in Massachusetts.”

Aylward’s words indicated that the fight over the future of the MassGOP is now inextricably linked with the rise of Trump, for better or for worse. 

“They didn’t want anything to do with Trump they were embarrassed by Trump they thought he was going to lose,” Aylward said about Hughes and the party’s top dogs, including Governor Charlie Baker.

Aylward said Baker asked to meet with him two days after Christmas in order to “pick his brain” in an effort to sort out what had transpired in the wake of Trump’s win. Baker had been very public regarding his stances on two key ballot initiatives support for raising the cap on charter schools and opposition to the legalization of marijuana.

Baker lost out on both, in addition to now having to deal with an incoming Republican president he actively worked to avoid supporting, Aylward pointed out. Aylward noted that he expected his meeting December 27 with Baker would last 20 minutes.

“He kept me for two hours, he knows he’s in a bad spot,” Aylward said about Baker. “He might not get an an ‘in’ with Washington.

“Help from the top in DC could be gone.”  

Aylward mentioned outgoing Massachusetts U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, nominated to the post by President Barack Obama in 2009. As president Trump will appoint her successor.

“Now usually a president would call the governor and say ‘what do you think?’,” Aylward said. “Here, he [Baker] can’t say who he wants to have in there — Trump is going to put in whoever he wants.”  

For Baker and Hughes, the Trump win upset an apple cart that had seen Baker work behind the scenes to raise more than $1 million in order to push forward a slate of moderate state committee candidates. The maneuvering led to the ouster last April of conservative activist Chanel Prunier, MassGOP’s national committeewoman, in favor of state Representative Keiko Orrall (R-Lakeville), by a slim 41-38 vote.

Aylward said his December 27 meeting with Baker was positive, but stressed that with Trump set to move into the White House, “the Democrats are going to lay everything that Trump does on Charlie Baker.”

“Even though Charlie ran away from Trump, it doesn’t matter the Democrats are going to take a broad brush and they’re going to paint Charlie as Trump.”

Aylward was in Trump’s corner prior to last March’s Republican presidential primary, which Trump won.

Last June, Aylward teamed up with GOP strategist and consultant Holly Robichaud to launch the Make Massachusetts Great Again PAC last June. According to Brian Kennedy, national director for the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, Trump backers were unable to obtain campaign signs from the MassGOP they had to turn to Aylward’s political action committee instead.

Kennedy’s op-ed, which ran in this month’s edition of the Boston Broadside, a conservative print publication published by Georgetown resident Lonnie Brennan, was a scathing takedown of Hughes’s leadership. The January edition of the newspaper, distributed at Thursday night’s event, is not yet available online.

“Her record makes it clear Kirsten Hughes is unfit to remain as party chair,” Kennedy wrote in his piece, which focused on the attention and money directed at ousting state GOP members over directing the same efforts towards electing more Republicans to serve on Beacon Hill. “She will not discuss these matters, much less debate them.”

Just four out of nine Massachusetts congressional seats, all retained by Democrats, featured Republican challengers. The GOP challenged only 11 out of 34 state Senate races, all of which saw Democrat wins.

Approximately 109 House Democrats ran without having to battle a Republican opponent. 

Frustrations between the MassGOP’s Trump wing and Hughes reached a boiling point earlier this month over access to inauguration tickets. Trump-supporting delegates who participated in July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland alleged that Hughes and party leadership had deliberately dragged their feet on securing tickets and access to next weekend’s inaugural events. (Hughes laid the blame on the Presidential Inauguration Committee.)

Prunier, in a column appearing in New Boston Post, argues that the divide in the state GOP is not “Trump v. anti-Trump” but instead “actually about the fundamental purpose of the Massachusetts Republican Party.”

According to Prunier, the pro-Hughes faction of the state GOP “adheres to the establishment concept that the Republican Party’s central mission is the election and re-election of the top dog, whether it’s Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, or, more recently, Charlie Baker.”

She adds:  “The insurgents on the state committee have a more long-term vision: the Republican Party should be about the building of the Republican Party on all levels, and the promotion of the Republican brand, independent of any one elected official or candidate. The state committee should make decisions based upon what helps us gain legislative seats, build Republican town committees, and increase Republican registration — among other priorities, including what helps our Republican governor. He’s one of many Republican elected officials and candidates whose interests we need to weigh and whose efforts we need to support.”

Aylward said he’s asked Hughes several times whether she’d be interested in debating him. To prove his claim, Aylward shared a November 27 email he sent to Hughes documenting his request.

“For my part, I am available anytime and at any place,” Aylward wrote.

Aylward said he never received a response.

Hughes could not be reached for comment. A message left Friday, both with the MassGOP and on her voicemail, was not immediately returned.

Aylward later stressed that despite Baker’s maneuvering regarding Trump and the state committee, he’s “still with Charlie.” 

“He’s a third of the government,” Aylward said. “And that’s why I met with him — to tell him that I’m with him, and that I still agree with him on many things.” 

Read a copy of Aylward’s proposal:

Aylward Plan by Evan on Scribd