Our governor, Charlie Baker, tells us that he sat out the presidential election in 2016. He blanked the top of the ballot rather than vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. He also skipped Trump’s lightly attended inauguration in January 2017.
Some might say that’s the best one could expect from a Republican. Perhaps that would be true in a normal political environment. But, look around folks: This is very much not normal.
Baker has shown signs that he understands this dynamic. And yet, our governor skipped out on the wave of huge, women-led protests that followed the inaugural. He was a no-show at rallies to speak up for immigrants and visitors when Trump rolled out his outrageous Muslim ban.
In January 2017, I wrote in this space: “It’s true that Governor Baker is in a tough spot. We all are. The Republican Party has recklessly enabled the elevation of a greed-fueled, misogynistic liar to the White House. Men and women who serve this Commonwealth must actively resist his administration’s excesses at every turn. We hope Gov. Baker will join that cause; but if he does not, he should not seek re-election to another term as our governor.”
Of course, there has been no LBJ 1968 moment for Charlie Baker. He’s running. And, with overall popularity ratings higher than any governor in the country, he has been portrayed as a hands-down favorite to win re-election.
But that might be changing. The tightrope that Baker has navigated nimbly since the Trumpists seized Washington has been worn down to a soggy shoelace in the week since our primary election. The state’s progressive column— already loaded for bear and flying high— was sent into the stratosphere with Ayanna Pressley’s sensational victory. Sure, it was at the expense of another liberal Democrat, but Pressley’s unexpectedly big margin of victory was a shock to the political establishment, of which Charlie Baker is unquestionably a charter member.
Then came the latest bombshells out of the White House: First, a detailed account of Trump’s own senior advisers scrambling to keep him from harming our own national security penned by the famed journalist Bob Woodward, whose reporting four-plus decades ago brought down Richard Nixon. Then, hours later, an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times underlined the fearsome reality: Trump’s reckless and erratic behavior has set in motion a shadow government at or near the White House.
What happened next with Baker was thoroughly self-inflicted: Last week, he endorsed the candidacy of state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is not a Charlie Baker Republican. Far from it. While Baker was squirming and eye-rolling his way through the ‘16 campaign and distancing himself from candidate Trump, Geoff Diehl was running Trump’s Massachusetts campaign office. Diehl is a ‘build-that-wall’ Trumpist through and through.
So why would Baker hitch his otherwise sturdy-enough wagon to Diehl’s clown car? In doing so,the governor has provided one hell of an opening for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Jay Gonzalez.
“If people want a governor who will fight back against Donald Trump’s agenda and who will fight to protect a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and common-sense gun control legislation, I will be that governor,” Gonzalez promised in a Monday statement that practically wrote itself.
Baker might be trying to head off a write-in candidacy by his kooky primary challenger, Scott Lively, another Trumpist with delusions of grandeur. But Baker would do well to remember that his audience for this election is no longer the 20 percent dead-enders in the GOP column who dissed him at the state convention or filled in their oval for Lively last Tuesday. Charlie won that fight.
There are nearly 4.5 million registered voters in Massachusetts, according to Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s last count. Of those who claim one of the two major parties, Democrats lead by a significant number, 1,492,399 to the GOP’s 465,952. Almost everyone else— 2,474,535 people — is unenrolled.
That’s where this election will be won or lost for Baker. And if he’s guessing that showing party loyalty by backing Trump-lover Geoff Diehl is important to the unenrolled, he’s miscalculating badly.
The mood of the nation today is not what is was when we elected Charlie Baker by a mere 40,000 votes in 2014. This moment demands strong leaders who will show backbone and courage as our national leaders cower and give cover to the imbecile misanthrope in the Oval Office.
Last week’s election was a strong sign that Massachusetts craves a bolder, more aggressive response to the national crisis. In ticketing up with Geoff Diehl and his ilk, our governor is heading decidedly in the wrong direction.
– Bill Forry