GOP Senate hopefuls do the Trump squirm

No one wants to alienate conservative party base

IT’S BECOME a well-worn storyline: Republicans in conservative states or congressional districts pull their punches when it comes to criticizing their party’s leader in the White House, regardless of the incoherence of his statements or policies, for fear of falling victim to a primary challenger who can rally Trump supporters.

Donald Trump has essentially taken over a Republican Party whose principles he often dismisses, and the hostage-taking now appears in force even in Massachusetts, once a redoubt of moderate Yankee Republicanism.

The latest evidence that Trumpism has fully infected the Bay State GOP body politic came this week with the president’s performance at the Helsinki press conference where he seemed to wave a white flag alongside his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. A moment Sen. John McCain called “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” was regarded by the three Republicans hoping to join the chamber in which the Arizonan has served in for more than three decades as little more than an unfortunate hiccup.

The prize for Trumpian obsequiousness, writes Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham, goes to state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who declared “The summit was fine.” That’s hardly a surprise coming from a co-chair of Trump’s Massachusetts campaign. But businessman John Kingston — once a vocal part of the never-Trump effort — and veteran Republican operative Beth Lindstrom did not exactly jump on McCain’s straight-talk express. Each offered mild criticism of Trump siding with Putin over US intelligence agencies on the matter of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but followed that with praise (read: relief) for his follow-up comments, which few took seriously, “clarifying” that actually he meant the opposite of what he said.

Kingston and Lindstrom may well want to position themselves as more moderate (and, they hope, palatable in a general election) challengers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but they first have to win a Republican primary in a state where Trump drew more votes than Charlie Baker and where Diehl is seen by many as the frontrunner.

Baker finds himself in a different position. It’s a measure of how strong the Trump base of the state Republican Party is that fringe right-wing pastor Scott Lively was able to secure more than a quarter of the delegate votes at the state GOP convention and win a spot on the September primary ballot. That said, no one expects him to pose a serious threat to Baker’s renomination.

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.

That left Baker free to address bluntly Trump’s stunning comments, which the governor pronounced “disgraceful.” Though Baker often seems unenthused by questions asking him to react to the latest White House antics, moments like this week’s comments on what New York Times columnist Charles Blow dubbed the “Surrender Summit” helpfully let the governor put more distance between his reelection campaign and Trump.

In the three-way scrum for the GOP Senate nomination, on the other hand, the Catch-22 calculation that one must surrender to the Trump hostage-taking to get through the primary only seems to strengthen the already considerable odds that the eventual nominee gets steamrolled in November.