All politics is local? No longer. Today, all politics is Donald Trump.
Potholes don’t care what party you are. But as Jennifer Nassour is finding out, Boston voters do.
Nassour, a candidate for a district seat on the Boston City Council, said that once voters find out she’s a Republican, they have one question: Why? “The question I’m most asked is, why not change my party?” said Nassour, a former chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, whose campaign literature makes no mention of her political affiliation. Sometimes, she said, people hand it back when they learn her true political identity.
While she’s not pulling a “Pierre Delecto” — hiding behind a secret Twitter account, like Senator Mitt Romney of Utah — she’s not exactly promoting her Republican roots, either. She wants to be known as a social progressive and fiscal conservative who is “pro-choice, pro-women, and committed to equality,” as her website puts it. Kenzie Bok, her opponent in the race to represent the district that stretches from Beacon Hill to Mission Hill, has been endorsed by the city’s Democratic establishment, including Attorney General Maura Healey.
In a nonpartisan city election, Nassour argues that the “R” next to her name shouldn’t matter.
But in these polarized times, in a blue state like Massachusetts, it does. Even Charlie Baker, America’s most popular governor, struggles to stick to Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local” mantra. On a recent radio show, when a caller pressed Baker on why he thinks Elizabeth Warren would be a bad president, he insisted on talking about post-storm power outages. Explaining his resistance, Baker said, “The one thing I do know is the minute I get into talking about presidential politics, that’s all anybody’s going to want to talk to me about every single day, and I would much rather talk about the issues that I was hired by the people of Massachusetts to work on.”
Service delivery is part of the job. But both Baker and Nassour are ducking a broader definition of what voters hire elected officials to do: be forthright about their political thinking and loyalties. Voters rightly want to know what Republican candidates stand for if they don’t stand for Trump. And if they don’t stand for Trump, shouldn’t they say so, loudly and often?
On the national stage, few have been willing to do that. Romney’ secret Twitter account, which he used to praise himself and occasionally criticize Trump, came to light just as he started to get credit from Trump opponents and heat from his own party for publicly assailing the president. That’s such a Romney way of having it both ways.
Baker was highly critical of Trump as a presidential candidate, saying he didn’t have “the temperament or seriousness of purpose to be president of the United States.” Baker said he voted for no one in the 2016 presidential election. Last summer, he called Trump’s tweets targeting Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and three other congresswomen of color “racist” and “shameful.” But according to the State House News Service, last month Baker declined to comment on whether he’s OK with a second Trump term. But he did bravely predict that “presidential politics are going to be really important to the people of Massachusetts and the people of the country.”
Nassour — who was endorsed by Baker — said she didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and won’t vote for him in 2020. During the 2016 campaign, she lamented what Trump’s ascendancy meant to Republicans. “I’m in mourning, mourning my party I love. My heart is broken. Where do lifelong Republicans go from here?” she said in a tweet.
Getting to the Boston City Council was always going to be tough. The last Republican to do so was John Winthrop Sears in 1979. The times were different then; the next year, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter to win the White House, and even the Massachusetts vote.
As we all know, Trump is no Reagan. Today, all politics is all about Trump — even local politics. If lifelong Republicans don’t know that by now, they never will.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.