Was Baker privately ‘With Her’?

Was Baker privately ‘With Her’?

Trump presents a boatload of headaches a Clinton win would have avoided

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER is heading to Washington later this month to attend fellow Republican Donald Trump’s inauguration. But would he have been happier to be attending Hillary Clinton’s swearing-in?

Of course, the state’s governor famously staked out a position of absolute neutrality in the presidential contest. Early on, Baker declared Trump a non-starter in his book, saying the bombastic billionaire did not have “the temperament to serve as president.” But Baker also made it clear that he wasn’t jumping sides to the Democratic nominee either. His refrain on Clinton was that she “has some real believability issues.”

Baker, who eked out a narrow victory in 2014 as a bipartisan, problem-solving Republican in deeply Democratic Massachusetts, said he would not vote for either major-party candidate. He also swore off the idea of casting a third-party vote for the Libertarian Party ticket, even though his political mentor, former governor Bill Weld, was its vice presidential candidate.

But one only has to consider a string of events this week to wonder whether beneath Baker’s public profession of neutrality he was privately pulling for Clinton.

The Trump victory has exposed a deep fissure in the Massachusetts Republican Party. The hardline conservatives who make up the Trump wing of the party were not happy to begin with that the state party’s standard-bearer rejected the eventual Republican presidential nominee. This week, squabbling broke out over access to tickets the inaugural festivities, which Trump backers say they’re being shut out of by Baker loyalists.  But the Herald’s Joe Battenfeld says the ticket tempest is “symptomatic of a much larger divide, one that threatens to deny Baker another term in 2018.”

Battenfeld calls the Baker and Trump camps in Massachusetts “badly dysfunctional relatives,” with the Baker crew treating the Trumpians like “degenerate in-laws.” The chairman of the Newton Republican City Committee (yes, there is such a thing) tells Battenfeld that Trump supporters within party are “not going to lift a finger” for the governor’s anticipated reelection campaign next year.

Cooler heads within the state GOP may prevail by the time of the election. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Trump forces feeling in any way emboldened to stir up trouble within the state party had their candidate been steamrolled in the national contest as many were predicting.

On Wednesday, Baker journeyed to Fall River for an occasion rare enough that it’s easy to see why it got on his calendar: The swearing-in of a Massachusetts Republican officeholder. But any event with Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson always carries some risk of the unexpected, and the tough-talking lawman did not disappoint.

After Baker dutifully swore Hodgson in for a fourth term, the conservative, Trump-backing sheriff declared in his remarks that he wanted to ship inmates from Bristol County 2,000 miles to help build the border wall Trump vowed to erect as part of his campaign against illegal Mexican immigrants.

Baker did not address the proposal at the event, but his office later issued a statement saying he was “thankful for the valuable community service inmates in Bristol County have provided through work programs and would prefer they continue to offer those services closer to home.”

It was hardly a ringing endorsement of Hodgson’s off-the-wall wall proposal, but it wasn’t exactly a sharp denunciation, either, of an idea that seemed to play off the race-based immigrant bashing that Trump trafficked in throughout his campaign.

No Trump election would have meant no wall talk from Hodgson — and no need for Baker to awkwardly split the difference between a loose cannon within his own party and more rational voices of reason, which extended from the Boston Herald editorial page to the ACLU.

A Republican governor in Massachusetts is not going to go out of his way to take shots at a member of the small band of fellow GOP officeholders. But not everyone was taken with Baker’s fancy footwork. Boston Globe editorial writer Marcela García said the governor should have made clear that Hodgson’s plan was a repugnant idea, calling his statement “Baker at his milquetoast worst.”

Finally, the governor also found himself quizzed this week about another Trump initiative that he’d just as soon leave alone: the president-elect’s vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, Baker parried questions from reporters at the State House about the incoming Republican administration’s vow to gut the federal health care law. Baker repeatedly said he wouldn’t get into the details of Washington machinations on the law, falling back on fact that Massachusetts has built a system that is now providing coverage to nearly all residents and that there is a strong commitment here to continuing to do so, “no matter what happens at the federal level.”

He refused to say whether he supported the overall GOP effort to repeal Obamacare or to detail what parts of the federal law he would favor retaining, saying he wouldn’t address “hypotheticals” until there are more details. Of course, the hypothetical stage, when ideas are being floated and considered, seems like exactly the right time for a governor with a deep health care background to weigh in and help shape the debate.

It’s easy to imagine that Baker, with his well-considered approach to many policy issues and early condemnation of Trump, might have emerged as a GOP favorite of a President Clinton. To the election’s notoriously vindictive and thin-skinned victor, those same factors may earn Baker a different kind of distinction.

Bill Weld, even while appearing on the national ballot as a candidate himself, made clear that he regarded Clinton as the preferable choice, by far, of the two major party candidates. It’s hard not to wonder whether his political protégé secretly feels the same way.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.