WESTFIELD — While nationally the Republican Party seems as divided and angry as ever, locally it’s a different story.
State Rep. Donald Humason (R-Westfield) said in Massachusetts, members of the GOP are, for the most part, getting along just fine.
“I don’t see it as a huge problem,” he said. “What’s happening in Washington hasn’t trickled down,”
Humason said some of the hype about infighting among Republicans is highlighted by national media.
“The Democrats are fighting too. You’re just not hearing about it as much,” Humason said.
State Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick) agreed.
“I think the media is painting that picture,” Boldyga said. “The Democrats just raised taxes so it’s a way to detract attention. The Democrats are fighting it, but that picture isn’t being painted.”
Boldyga said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has not passed a budget in nearly five years.
“They definitely are not getting along,” he added.
In Massachusetts where Republicans are the minority, legislators seem to agree to disagree.
“In Massachusetts, we’re a small party,” said Humason. “Can you disagree within your own party? I think you can.”
Humason said some of the infighting is occurring following the party’s election loss.
“We lost a presidential election by a close margin,” he said. “People are wondering ‘why did we lose?’ People complained about how things were, but they sent Obama back to the White House, the Republicans back to the House and Democrats back to the senate. They complained, but nothing changed.”
Boldyga said instead of arguing with his fellow Republicans, he plans to spend this year fighting fraud and abuse. Since the new year began, Boldyga’s social media followers have noticed a big increase in his online presence. Boldyga has been posting and tweeting articles from different media highlighting abuses in the system, including the discovery last week that 19,000 Massachusetts welfare recipients are missing.
“The state spent $3 million of your taxpayer money to mail absentee ballots to people on assistance and found out 19,000 of them don’t live at their listed address,” said Boldyga. “Taxes were raised on people making $30,000 or more, but we are giving assistance to 19,000 people we can’t find and the state is giving MassHealth to people who live in other states. It’s time to stop this fraud.”
The fighting nationally continued with the fiscal cliff vote last week.
Infighting has penetrated the highest levels of the House GOP leadership. Long-standing geographic tensions have increased, pitting endangered Northeastern Republicans against their colleagues from other parts of the country. Enraged tea party leaders are threatening to knock off dozens of Republicans who supported a measure that raised taxes on the nation’s highest earners.
“People are mad as hell. I’m right there with them,” Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, said late last week, declaring that she has “no confidence” in the party her members typically support. Her remarks came after GOP lawmakers agreed to higher taxes but no broad spending cuts as part of a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
“Anybody that voted ‘yes’ in the House should be concerned” about primary challenges in 2014,” she said.
At the same time, one of the GOP’s most popular voices, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blasted his party’s “toxic internal politics” after House Republicans initially declined to approve disaster relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy. He said it was “disgusting to watch” their actions and he faulted the GOP’s most powerful elected official, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The GOP’s internal struggles to figure out what it wants to be were painfully exposed after Mitt Romney’s loss to President Barack Obama on Nov. 6, but they have exploded in recent days. The fallout could extend well beyond the party’s ability to win policy battles on Capitol Hill. It could hamper Republicans as they examine how to regroup and attract new voters after a disheartening election season.
To a greater degree than the Democrats, the Republican Party has struggled with internal divisions for the past few years. But these latest clashes have seemed especially public and vicious.
“It’s disappointing to see infighting in the party,” said Ryan Williams, a Republican operative and former Romney aide. “It doesn’t make us look like we’re in a position to challenge the president and hold him accountable to the promises he made.”
What’s largely causing the dissension? A lack of a clear GOP leader with a single vision for the party.
Republicans haven’t had a consistent standard-bearer since President George W. Bush left office in 2008 with the nation on the edge of a financial collapse. His departure, along with widespread economic concerns, gave rise to a tea party movement that infused the GOP’s conservative base with energy. The tea party is credited with broad Republican gains in the 2010 congressional elections, but it’s also blamed for the rising tension between the pragmatic and ideological wings of the party — discord that festers still.
It was much the same for Democrats in the late 1980s before Bill Clinton emerged to win the White House and shift his party to the political center.
Over the short term at least, the party’s divisions probably will continue to be exposed.
Obama has outlined a second-term agenda focused on immigration and gun control; those are issues that would test Republican solidarity even in good times. Deep splits already exist between Republican pragmatists and the conservative base, who oppose any restrictions on guns or allowances for illegal immigrants.
Fiscal issues aren’t going away. The federal government reached its borrowing limit last week, so Congress has about two months or three months to raise the debt ceiling or risk a default on federal debt. Massive defense and domestic spending cuts are set to take effect in late February. By late March, the current spending plan will end, raising the possibility of a government shutdown.
“Whenever you lose the White House, the party’s going to have ups and downs,” said Republican strategist Ron Kaufman. “My guess is when the spending issues come up again, the Democrats’ warts will start to show as well.”
Weary Republican strategists are trying to be hopeful about the GOP’s path ahead, and liken the current situation to party’s struggles after Obama’s 2008 election. At the time, some pundits questioned the viability of the Republican Party. But it came roaring back two years later, thanks largely to the tea party.
“If we have learned anything from the fiscal cliff fiasco, conservatives discovered we need to stand firm, and stand together, on our principles from beginning to end,” said Republican strategist Alice Stewart. “It’s frustrating to see the GOP drop the ball and turn a position of true compromise into total surrender. The Democrats succeeded in their strategy of divide and conquer.”
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.