WHEN WHITTAKER CHAMBERS broke with the Communist Party, he mournfully declared that he knew he was "leaving the winning side for the losing side." Compared with today's Massachusetts GOP, Chambers was a cockeyed optimist.
Last week's election was a misery for Bay State Republicans. US Senator Scott Brown lost his "people's seat" to Elizabeth Warren. Scandal-tainted incumbent John Tierney survived Richard Tisei's challenge in the 6th Congressional District. And the tiny Republican band on Beacon Hill grew tinier: Three GOP state representatives were ousted, giving Democrats a 130-30 advantage in the House and 36 of the Senate's 40 seats.
For Massachusetts Republicans, of course, getting routed in elections is practically a way of life. ("90-lb. GOP had sand kicked in its face" announced a post-election Boston Globe headline -- 16 years ago.) When 77-year-old Polly Logan, a longtime state party leader, was bound and gagged during an armed robbery at her home in 2002, she said she survived the long wait for help by trying to recall "all the state campaigns I was in, and how we lost most of them, and what we could have done to win."
But after last week's wipeout, Massachusetts Republicans weren't exactly brimming over with that what-doesn't-kill-you-makes-you-stronger spirit.
"The MassGOP … is dead" a post at Red Mass Group, a popular Republican blog, was titled Wednesday morning. Activist Ed Lyon's prognosis was grim: "It is no longer possible for a Republican to win congressional or statewide office," he wrote. The GOP is "no longer viable statewide."
There was fatalism aplenty. "If you're a Republican, you can have the cure for cancer in one hand, a balanced budget in the other, and free tuition in your back pocket," radio talk host Michael Graham, a veteran GOP consultant, told me. "And they'd still vote against you." One lifelong Massachusetts Republican, a public administrator and former aide to governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, asked bleakly: "What's the point of being a Republican if you live here?"
That's exactly the right question.
What is the point of being a Republican in Massachusetts? Is the goal is just to dislodge the party in power? To try to win positions now held by Democrats? There have always been partisans, both Republican and Democrat, for whom politics is chiefly a kind of sport, with tribal loyalties and campaign playbooks and a prize to be won through shrewd tactics and a subtle strategy.