Trump's Massachusetts margin of victory raised eyebrows -- and some hopes.

Credit: Meredith Nierman

Local GOP Looks On The Bright Side Of Trump's Mass. Popularity

March 9, 2016

Last week, the most consequential Massachusetts Republican politician in generations said that the leading vote-getter in the state's presidential primary is "playing the American public for suckers." Almost a week after the vote, some local GOP leaders—for and against the insurgent Donald Trump—see a silver lining in his outsider appeal.

Trump's big win in the Commonwealth was thanks to 49 percent of the roughly 630,000 Republican primary ballots voters turned in on Super Tuesday. And if you're asking yourself, "Are there even that many Republicans in Massachusetts?"—the answer is no, there are only about half a million. That means, at a very minimum, around 150,000 independent voters chose GOP ballots and a lot of them probably voted for Donald Trump.

There were even roughly 20,000 Democrats who crossed party lines to vote in the Republican primary, according to the state's top election official.

Those numbers must have put a smile on the face of Ron Kaufman, the long-time Republican National Committeeman from Massachusetts, and a close advisor to Romney, who see a big boost for local GOP hopefuls in November, regardless of who's on the ticket.

"The turnout is enormous, and that's a great thing for the party, and it's great for the party in Massachusetts," Kaufman said. Not only that, Kaufman pointed out, but Democratic turnout in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did not match that of Clinton's 2008 victory over Barack Obama here.

"We're very excited about what that portends for November," Kaufman said.

Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Trump supporter and surrogate with no love lost for the "establishment" within his own party, told WGBH News Trump was the reason for the uptick in Republican voters.

"A mistake would be for [the establishment] to ignore all these new voters who are coming to support a Republican candidate and grow the party," Diehl said. "This is akin to what happened back in '80 when Reagan really started converting people into Reagan Democrats, for example, and Donald Trump appeals widely for a lot of reasons."

While it's speculative, some dyed-in-the-wool Republicans—who may not be pure "Trumpians"—nevertheless enjoyed voting for the New York billionaire because of the raucous reaction his margin of victory would trigger.

That new Republican-leaning, or at least Trump-leaning, electorate is on the mind of House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading, who would like to see his 34-member caucus grow this November.

"If the Republican nominee is winning here in November, in this year or in any year, it probably means Republican legislative candidates are doing very, very, very well," Jones told WGBH News.

"It's fair, even if you are someone who isn't an ardent Trump supporter, to try to understand what is motivating people," Jones said. "What are the issues? The issues, even if it's not necessarily the solutions, but you can identify issues and say, 'oh yeah,' he's talking about the issues I care about."

The task ahead for down-ballot candidates and local party leadership this year, according to Jones, will be figuring out how to address those issues in a fashion that they feel may be more responsible than Trump's positions.

State Republican Party Chairman Kristen Hughes declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story, but in an emailed statement said the competitive GOP primary is putting Democrats on defense.

Romney was clear, however, that while Trump may be tapping into an angry electorate, he doesn't believe the businessman has the nation's best interest at heart.

"Mr. Trump is directing our anger for less than noble purposes. He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants. He calls for the use of torture. He calls for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the Constitution to limit First Amendment freedom of the press," Romney said in that Friday speech, clearly laying out why a rock-ribbed Bay Stater, or any other American for that matter, may refuse to support Trump's play for the White House.

"This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss," Romney said.

People close to Romney have suggested that the former governor took the stage at the University of Utah last week because of a moral sense that giving voice to the anti-Trump sentiment was the right thing to do.

It may have been a similar sense of moral obligation that lead Romney's Republican successor, Gov. Charlie Baker, to publicly endorse New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presidential run shortly before the New Hampshire primary. Christie, a fairly like-minded executive and friend of our governor, was generous to Baker's 2014 campaign as the leader of the GOP governors' political operation.

What can you say, but that Baker's a loyal guy? Except for the brief interlude where he campaigned for Christie, Baker has been steady in his disinterest in presidential politics. Badgered almost every day by the State House press corps to react to the newest invective Trump's uttered on the campaign trail, Baker has slowly escalated his resistance to the GOP front-runner, declaring last week that he will not support him if he becomes the Republican nominee.

"I'm not much of a fan of Hillary Clinton, let's put it that way," Baker told reporters last week during one of his regular pestering sessions with the Trump-obsessed media, responding to the obvious implication that if not Trump, then who? (Baker points out that the race isn't over, no matter what that Trump-obsessed media wants to think.)

As November approaches, Republicans in Massachusetts both for against Trump may yet unite on the other key part of Romney's speech.

Romney said Hillary Clinton and her husband embody "crony capitalism" that "disgusts the American people and causes them to lose faith in our political process."

That disgust may have lead to Trump's performance in Massachusetts primary vote, but now is the time from Bay State Republicans to decide if it's enough to allow them to hold their nose, vote for The Donald, and stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president.


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