Baker really is a RINO

Latest jab at Trump and national Republicans underscores gulf with his party

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S status was sealed last night: He is now an officially certified leading figure among the ever-shrinking ranks of major elected Republican officials who question the sanity of their party. 

It came when CNN’s Don Lemon, whose nightly show has been part of the cable network’s four-year monologue on the destruction being wrought by Donald Trump, singled out Baker for approbation. Specifically, Lemon recognized Baker as a rare voice of Republican reason for his remarks at a Tuesday State House press briefing where the governor slammed Trump for stalling the transition to President-elect Joe Biden and called news that the Justice Department will get involved in voter fraud investigations “wildly inappropriate.” 

“Sanity, logic, reality,” Lemon said with his trademark earnest tone of solemnity. It came after rolling the video from Gardner Auditorium that we’re accustomed to seeing when Baker comments on new statewide COVID-19 positivity rates, not when he’s being held up as a national spokesman against the assault on democratic rule by the president of his party. 

Baker said blocking a smooth transition could not come at a worse time “than amid a deadly pandemic that the federal government continues to own primary responsibility for responding to.” He restated the fact that has been widely reported by every news outlet from Fox News to the New York Times that no evidence has been produced of widespread voter fraud. 

“I’m dismayed to hear the baseless claims coming from the president, from his team, and from many other elected Republican officials in Washington,” Baker said. 

With a melancholy mien, Baker talked of being a Republican for 40 years, raising money for Republican candidates, and knocking on doors for GOP candidates.

All that was missing was for him to end by reprising Lindsey Graham’s famous observation four years ago (which he has, of course, since vigorously walked back): “My party has gone batshit crazy.” 

That sort of comment is not part of the Baker preference for understatement, but it seems to telegraph exactly what he’s thinking. And it doesn’t just come down to Trump’s fact-free demagoguing of everything from immigration issues to election integrity. Baker doesn’t line up with Republican positions on some major issues of the day, such as his opposition to GOP efforts to upend the Affordable Care Act. 

Baker has taken flak for saying he blanked his ballot when it came to the presidential race, but it’s hard to see what sort of sliver of standing that preserved for him within his party when considered in the context of his comments on Tuesday. 

The major elected Republicans who have dared to recognize Biden as the president-elect could caucus in a phone booth (perhaps a fittingly outmoded image given how out of date they are with the Republican Party of today). And Susan Collins, one of the few Senate Republicans Baker seems to embrace, who is famous for her conditional equivocations, might have one leg dangling out of the booth with her comment congratulating Biden on his “apparent victory.” 

Though some have speculated that Baker could shed his party label and win a third term as an independent, there is no sign that he’s planning to ditch the GOP. 

Even the Massachusetts Republican Party, with its full MAGA orientation, bears little resemblance to the one Baker grew up in. But its vanishing membership still grudgingly gives him a vote when faced with a Democratic alternative. Meanwhile, unenrolled voters, now the state’s largest voting bloc, and some number of Democrats seem to have no problem voting for Baker as a Republican — as long as he continues to make clear just how much he’s not actually a Republican in many of the ways that label is now defined. 

In September, Baker even earned an attack tweet from Trump, who called him a “RINO” — or Republican in name only — for having the temerity to express dismay at the president’s reluctance to agree to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. 

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.

This morning, former Missouri Republican congressman Tom Coleman told NPR he now feels the same way some one-time Democrats used to say they felt. “It’s no longer my party,” Coleman said. “As Ronald Reagan once said about the Democratic Party, ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.’ I just substitute Republican for Democrat.” 

It would be worth asking Baker if that’s a Republican viewpoint he agrees with.