Gabriel Gomez and the Impossible GOP Embrace

The Massachusetts Senate candidate is both the Republican Party's hope of the moment and supremely disadvantaged against his opponent. This has made him something of a novel figure among his party's national leaders ahead of Tuesday's special election. Like so.

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Massachusetts Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez is both the Republican Party's hope of the moment and supremely disadvantaged against his opponent — an average of the latest state-wide polls shows him lagging behind Democratic Congressman Edward Markey by more than 10 points, less than a week before special-election voting arrives on Tuesday. This has made Gomez something of a novel figure among his party's national leaders, who have struggled to decide what to do with a candidate who disagrees with their stance on a litany of social issues and deplores Washington's penchant for manufactured distraction, yet represents, as a Navy SEAL-turned-businessman and the son of immigrant parents, the sort of coalition the Republican Party says it wants to win over. Republican strategist Alex Castellanos recently argued, for example, that "Gomez is an antidote to the stuffy Republican establishment that only says 'No' and scares next-generation voters away." On Wednesday morning, however, Arizona Senator John McCain issued a statement saying he disagreed with Gomez's idea for term limits in the Senate. This was a formidable blow to Gomez's team, which has endlessly campaigned against Ed Markey's long tenure in Congress.

The topic of term limits — which, like filibuster reform, goes to the heart of Washington intransigence — surfaced on Tuesday night during the final debate between Markey and Gomez held in a Boston television studio. The relevant exchange, according to the Associated Press, highlighted the awkward space Gomez continues to occupy: "Gomez said he told veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who campaigned for Gomez in Boston last month, that he should leave the Senate at the end of his term. 'Mr. Gomez did not tell John McCain that this is his last term,' said Markey. 'That did not happen.'" Later, Gomez appeared to trap himself on the topic of his conversation with McCain:  "Gomez told reporters McCain had indicated his support for term limits [but] a spokesman for McCain said ... on that particular issue McCain disagreed with Gomez." So this charged moment designed to expose Markey as clueless — and reveal the Republicans as selfless forward-thinkers — demonstrated precisely the opposite. Indeed, Markey displayed the depth and utility of his political savvy: He can know his adversaries more than they know each other.

The GOP's national fundraising apparatus hasn't quite settled on how to boost Gomez, either. Last week — 16 days before the special election day — several members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee appeared in a 1,800-word feature in Politico (obviously) to discuss the mindless Twitter feuds they enjoy waging against their Democratic counterparts, and vice versa. "The men fighting the Twitter war (and they are all men) insist the time-consuming antics serve an actual political strategy," Politico noted. On the same day, Markey posted a 7-point lead over Gomez in a Suffolk University poll. And on Wednesday morning — six days before election day — NRSC officials issued a breathless press release claiming that Markey has lied about living in Massachusetts for over 20 years. After going over the evidence supplied by a conservative super PAC, the right-leaning Boston Herald responded: "It's highly unlikely [this] will prompt an investigation in the week remaining in the campaign."

To be fair, Gomez has often tripped himself up, making a habit of responding to nearly all questions — about a massive tax deduction he took on his historical home; about the clients of his private equity firm; about his precise view on abortion policy — by accusing Markey of being old, and being a politician. He told Markey at a recent debate: "You are basically Washington, D.C. I’m sorry sir, but you are." At a press event, unprompted, he called Markey "pond scum." At the same time, he has accused Markey, falsely, of not writing any significant legislation during his Congressional tenure. As Boston Magazine recently observed, "this argument requires either naked dishonesty, or an utter ignorance of common legislative procedure, or both." You could attribute these outbursts to naiveté — Gomez has repeatedly insisted that he's not a "smooth-talking politician" — but when taken together they indicate something odd: that he never has the time — nor, apparently, the inclination — to fit in with the political structure he says he wants to rescue.

By the same token, it's unclear why the GOP, a party desperately seeking to consolidate both power and party opinion, would want throw so much weight behind a candidate who can't yet be trusted to toe the party line. Other than, of course, to pull John Kerry's old Senate seat into their column. And, of course, this is Gomez's argument: that his election would augur a kind of post-partisan future in which the multi-party system, instead of encouraging endless Twitter feuds, might actually, you know, solve some problems.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.