“We need to get our party back focused on winning elections,” says new Massachusetts GOP Chair Amy Carnevale. And for sentient conservatives and moderates of all kinds – but especially for local Republicans with a clue – that’s the best news they’ve heard since January 17, 2019, when far-right losing specialist Jim Lyons began his four-year reign of error as party chair.

But how?

Carnevale won the seat from the incumbent by just three out of 71 state committee member votes, an astonishingly narrow margin given how thoroughly Lyons laid waste to the party’s political, electoral and financial credibility. The vote reflects the party’s deep divisions. What passes for the GOP establishment could barely bring itself to treat its own cancer. But they’re a step ahead of the rank and file, who last fall gave Lyons puppet Geoff Diehl an easy primary win over a viable alternative, Chris Doughty.

Excuse me, Chris “RINO” (Republican In Name Only)

Doughty. So many serious Republican figures, from Charlie Baker on down, are considered contemptible RINOs by the Lyons clique, they should remove them from the endangered species list.

Deep-sixing that suicidal demonization would seem like job one for Carnevale. “I think a Massachusetts Republican is somebody who is fiscally conservative and really wants to lead our state in a way that is focused on fiscal values and an opposition to Democrats who sometimes have more progressive values,” she says. “I am somebody who supported Donald Trump at the national level, but I also strongly supported Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts, and I think you can do both.”

You can? Not if you’re the type of Republican who gets a kick out of the likes of Rayla Campbell, the Lyons-approved party nominee for secretary of state last year who wowed the state convention with her baseless claims about elementary schools encouraging five-year-olds to perform sex acts on each other. “We need to focus on candidate recruitment,” Carnevale acknowledges. “And when we think about candidates to run statewide, let’s learn a little bit more about you.”

Yes, let’s. In the meantime, Carnevale wisely wants to wean the party off its culture-war junk food addiction and bulk up on fiscal issues. Voter dismay over rising tax burdens, stifling regulation and profligate Beacon Hill spending brought the state GOP back from the dead in 1990 and fueled it’s run of six-out-of-nine Republican gubernatorial wins. Those concerns remain. Carnevale suggests the new surtax on incomes of a million or more may have “serious consequences” for the state economy, and she insists her party can benefit from that if they wake up and smell the DD.

“We do need to have a fiscal message that resonates with voters,” she says. “That’s the focus of a lot of voters here in Massachusetts. So that’s something that should be a focus of our party as well.”

Will it work? Carnevale touts an early test, the February 28 special election for mayor of Attleboro to fill the seat left vacant by Paul Heroux. “We have a strong Republican candidate,” she says of acting Mayor Jay DiLisio.

Sure enough, the sane wing of the Massachusetts GOP is getting behind DiLisio, with Baker and former Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito endorsing him last week. But in a telling sign of how deep a hole Carnevale has to dig out of, there’s something missing from DiLisio’s web and Facebook pages: any mention of that severely tainted brand name, “Republican.”

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Jon Keller has been reporting and commenting on local politics since 1978. A graduate of Brandeis University, he worked in radio as a producer and talk-show host before moving into print journalism at The Tab newspapers and the Boston Phoenix. Freelance credits include the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, the New Republic and the Washington Post. Since 1991 his "Keller At Large" commentaries and interviews have been a fixture on Boston TV, first on WLVI-TV and, since 2005, on WBZ-TV. He is a 12-time Emmy Award winner for political reporting and commentary. He began his Massterlist column in March 2020.