A longstanding rift between the high and low tiers of the Massachusetts Republican Party has widened in the past few years — and it's about to grow into a chasm over two views of the 2012 elections.
The grassroots Tea Party activists in the party want to defend, and perhaps add to, lower-office gains made in 2010.
Meanwhile, the elite, establishment party forces are more concerned with the fates of two men: US Senator Scott Brown and former governor Mitt Romney.
Since state GOP party chair Jennifer Nassour announced her resignation in September — to spend more time with her growing family, she said — the selection of her replacement has become a proxy battle over that divide.
It appears that the establishment will win. Most party insiders expect that, late this month, the MassGOP committee will elect Robert Maginn, decades-long ally of Romney and big booster of Brown.
This is not a huge surprise. The party will serve as an adjunct to Brown's re-election campaign — just as the Massachusetts Democratic Party will for his opponent. By law, Brown's campaign cannot coordinate with the party, so he understandably wants someone he trusts calling the shots there.
Likewise, Romney wants someone he trusts as the face of the state party, to handle the inevitable inquiries that will come as his presidential campaign gets greater scrutiny.
Supporters of Maginn also argue that helping Brown — and Romney, if he is the presidential nominee — is the best way to help elect Republicans for lower office.
But many rank-and-file party members — and several Tea Party groups and conservative organizations — don't buy that. Plus, they aren't particularly thrilled with Brown, who they feel has abandoned the Tea Partiers who elected him. They are even less keen on Romney.
The skeptics also think that recent history has proven their point. When the state party was led by Romney-installed Darrell Crate — business partner of then–lieutenant governor Kerry Healey's husband — Republicans lost ground in the legislature, and failed to win a single statewide or congressional race.
Things only got worse in the following two years, under former congressman Peter Torkildsen, another establishment figure.
And, although Nassour straddled the two worlds better than her predecessors, the party devoted its attention and resources to Charlie Baker, and the Bay State completely missed out on the national November 2010 Tea Party–fueled Republican gains.
Republicans did manage to double their numbers in the state House of Representatives — which activists put down to their own efforts, not Nassour's.
Tellingly, most of those newly elected state representatives are opposing Maginn. They are backing Frank McNamara, a lawyer and one-time congressional candidate, who is promising to focus on re-electing those lawmakers — and to guide the state party toward more conservative, constitutional principles. (Neither Maginn or McNamara could be reached for comment.)
Baker, Brown, Healey, Torkildsen, and a host of other establishment figures have endorsed Maginn.
McNamara's supporters, who are speaking up on local blogs and community meetings, realize they are the underdogs. But they think that Romney and Brown may have miscalculated not only the passion of the grassroots, but the weakness of their chosen candidate.