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MassGOP draws the curtain on Jim Lyons’s clown show

The Boston Globe 2/1/2023 Scot Lehigh
Jim Lyons offered a shrewd new definition of success: It’s failure. © Jim Davis/Globe Staff Jim Lyons offered a shrewd new definition of success: It’s failure.

It was three small votes in a battle for MassGOP chair, one giant leap for political kind.

By a vote of 37 to 34 on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Republican State Committee ousted hard-right conservative crank Jim Lyons in favor of veteran state committee member Amy Carnevale.

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The new chairwoman has longer vintage as a Donald Trump supporter than does Lyons but, wondrous to relate, can claim some interpersonal skills. Plus, she thinks there is actually some value to having a party that can win elections.


“By every metric, we are failing,” Carnevale said in a speech before the voting. “For the sake of the conservative policies we advocate, our remaining officeholders, members of our party, and future candidates, we need a fresh start.”

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Mind you, that wasn’t the pitch Lyons made.

A fresh start?

No, no, no, no.

He urged the state committee “to continue on our difficult and challenging path of staying on the course of becoming a conservative party.”

Given that the course set by Lyons has left the party irrelevant, basically broke, and stranded in the political desert without food or water, he first had to put a different spin on things. He rose to the task by offering a shrewd new definition of success: It’s failure.

“At first, let it be clear, we’re not going to win and even in most elections, we might lose,” he proclaimed.

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By this novel definition, Lyons’s tenure has been an unexampled success. After all, if you replace “might lose” with “got routinely and roundly shellacked,” you have an apt summation of his two terms as party chairman.

He then quoted an array of historical figures in his attempt to rally the state committee to his losing-is-really-winning cause. Figures like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. “It is in the words of great leaders that came before us that we can find inspiration to accept the challenge of our time to carry on in the face of criticism,” he said.

Actually, for a more accurate summation of the party’s plight during his tenure, Lyons could have resorted to a pithy bit of wisdom from the comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” During his disastrous four years as party chief, Lyons had reduced a party that to succeed needs to be a big tent on social issues to a pup tent-size enclosure.

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Another of Lyons’s rhetorical thrusts was to inveigh against the Globe, which he accused of having embarked on a campaign to destroy his state committee tenure, the better to keep control over the ideological offerings of both major political parties in Massachusetts.

“The Globe and its allies could not stand the thought: Republicans actually thinking, speaking, and acting like Republicans,” he said.

That sentiment seemed to play well with some in the crowd Lyons rallied to come to Marlborough to watch the proceedings. Some of his fans also objected mightily to the Globe. Asked why she didn’t like the newspaper, a 76-year-old told me she had been a teacher in Boston and objected to the way the Globe had covered a story about a Black Panther demonstration at her school in 1968.

Elephants really do remember.

As I left the meeting with former Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, someone who apparently recognized us described Globe reporters as “scumbags.”

It speaks to how absolutist and resentment-filled the hard-right has become in the Trump era. In the good old days, prominent Massachusetts conservative and former state party chairman Gordon Nelson would cheerfully announce to his workplace, “Pravda on is on the line; I have to take their call” when we reached out.

These days, what was once a joke has hardened into a kooky world view in which communism or socialism lurk seemingly everywhere in hard-right imagination. Indeed, erstwhile state committeeman Mark Bergeron insisted to me that former GOP governor Charlie Baker was not just a Marxist but a totalitarian to boot. When I got done chuckling, I tried to get him to see that was unlikely, given that Baker hadn’t tried to nationalize — well, Massachusetts-ize — private enterprise.

Well, then, a cultural Marxist, suggested his friend.

That discussion, at least, was civil. But oh my, what a chasm between their viewpoint and reality.

But the state committee, at least, has taken a step in the right direction. Lyons can now go off and lick his wounds and spread his conspiracy theories and tell anyone willing to listen about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that have beset him.

New chairwoman Amy Carnevale, meanwhile, can focus her efforts on cleaning up the mess Lyons made and putting the GOP on the long road back to relevance.

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