Jan 23, 2024 - Politics

Looking for a Massachusetts Republican in the New Hampshire primary

Illustration of the shape of Massachusetts as the head of an elephant.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The two-person race to top the New Hampshire primary between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley has been encouraging for MAGA-leaning Republicans in Massachusetts but deeply disheartening for those in the local GOP who still cling to a more liberal kind of Republicanism.

Why it matters: If Donald Trump wins a third New Hampshire primary in a row, it could be the death knell for the style of politics that dominated New England Republicanism in the decades before his arrival in 2016.

  • The days of the "fiscal conservative/social liberal" could be over.

Flashback: It wasn't long ago that Republicans in Massachusetts and our neighbors up north preferred a more moderate GOP standard-bearer.

  • Mitt Romney and John McCain followed George W. Bush's wins in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire before losing to Democrats.
  • Trump steamrolled over former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2016 and blew Massachusetts' own former Gov. William Weld out of the water in 2020.
  • Polls suggest Haley could finish closer to Trump this year, which would please many of the anti-Trump GOPers still active in Massachusetts.

What they're saying: "[Haley is] obviously more conservative than most Massachusetts Republicans but she is within the bounds of mainstream, normally accepted candidates," former Gov. Jane Swift told Axios.

  • Weld told Politico this week he likes Haley and expects to hear more from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the future.
  • "He spoke truth to power, as far as Trump is concerned," Weld said.

In 2024, the idea of a "Massachusetts Republican" would match the contemporary definition for that of most any other state: devoted to Trump.

  • The former president dominated the 2016 and 2020 Massachusetts Republican primaries with even bigger wins than in the more competitive New Hampshire races a few weeks before.
  • Recently-elected state Sen. Peter Durant (D-Spencer) said on WBZ over the weekend that "we have to understand that Donald Trump is a juggernaut" within the current party, with a media presence that's hard to overcome.

At the same time as New England conservatives turned to Trump, former Gov. Charlie Baker, the last of the old-school Massachusetts Republicans to hold statewide office, was widely regarded as the most popular governor in the country thanks to his appeal to independent voters.

  • Baker didn't run for a third term in part because of the trouble he'd have had winning his party's nomination.

What's next: Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) sees hope that in a post-Trump era of Republican politics — either later in 2024 or in 2028 — New Hampshire voters will swing back to preferring moderates.

  • "There's a clear opportunity in the coming election for Republicans nationally if we can field a mainstream message and responsible message and one that builds on what I think Republicans in Massachusetts have historically advocated for," Tarr told Axios.

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