Former Massachusetts GOP Chairwoman on Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, and Closeted Republicans
After serving as the chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party since 2009, Jennifer Nassour stepped down last week; her third child is due in February. During her tenure, the state GOP won a number of victories — Scott Brown won a special election for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in 2009, and Republicans doubled their membership in the state’s House of Representatives. Here, Nassour talks about closeted Massachusetts Republicans, Scott Brown, and her endorsement in the GOP presidential primary.
How does it feel to be done?
It’s definitely bittersweet. The sweet part is not having my heart in my throat all the time and being so wound up and worried all the time about what everyone is doing politically, both Republicans and Democrats. There’s something to be said for being normal person and being able to focus at my kid’s soccer game and not looking at my phone the whole time. The bitter part is not having all that in my life and walking away from something I loved.
The state GOP did pretty well under your leadership.
It wasn’t the work of any one person or individual. It was the work of a lot of us, in making sure that we had quality candidates over a quantity of candidates, and making sure they were talking to the people that they needed to, and getting out and meeting people face-to-face.
When the U.S. Senate special election race started, did you have any idea what kind of force Scott Brown was going to be?
No one’s ever asked me that question quite like that! (Laughs.) I always knew that Scott was going to win that race, because just because I know him and there is no one who works harder than he does. I did not, though, know the type of effect that it would have on the other candidates coming out. We had others coming out in 2009 really early, and they were young and charismatic and energetic. They said they wanted to run, and I said OK, we’ll do it together. After the Brown run, they just had stars in their eyes. They knew it could be done. It gave them the confidence to win.
Is Massachusetts the best place to be a Republican or the worst?
If you’re like me, and you like driving up mountains, then it’s a fabulous state to be in. You always have to argue your point and that makes you work a little harder. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then it’s not a good state to be in. I also got to know that there are a number of closeted Republicans around the state! They’re the ones who sit around at meetings and will whisper to you, “I’m a Republican, too.” And I’m like, “WHAT? What did you say!?” They’ve been beaten down and have been made to feel that their voices have never been heard.
Now that you’re no longer the chairwoman, can you make an endorsement in the presidential primary?
Yes! I think that Mitt Romney has the best shot at winning this thing — not just the primary but the general election as well. Over the years, I’ve grown to respect Governor Romney’s positions and what he can do for the country. It’s a shame that we have 9.1 percent unemployment and 17 percent underemployment. I think that if anyone is going to get on track, it’s Mitt Romney.
Will Romney’s record in Massachusetts hurt him? He worked with Democrats while here.
People aren’t looking for someone who is with them 100 percent of the time, but someone that is going to make the country a better place. They say, “Is this someone who I can agree with 60, or 70, or 80 percent of time?” I can tell you, as someone who is married, I don’t get along with my husband 60 percent of the time! You’re going to disagree with people in your life. You’re not going to agree with someone 100 percent of the time, and that goes for our political candidates as well.
Have you worked closely with the Tea Party?
They’re a group of energized people who are probably more un-enrolled voters than Republican, and had a mission that was aligned with ours as far as their fiscal values and government accountability. It’s been fun to watch them evolve and chat with their various leaders, and they’ve definitely been helpful with different campaigns. But we’re a party, and they’re a movement. We don’t have any official type of relationship.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned?
Never to read blogs. (Laughs.) The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s a complex state and every different corner of the state who has different people with different views on what our party should be doing. If you’re going to be in politics, you have to listen to them.
Fundraising as a Republican in Massachusetts is a struggle. (Laughs.) That’s something I never expected, but for some people, being tied to the party because of a donation is a very difficult pill to swallow. Every time we were able to raise money, it was a victory for us — we were able to persuade someone to take part in what we were doing.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.