Tiptoeing through the Trump era

Baker has so far avoided the president’s fury

WHILE GOV. CHARLIE BAKER staycations in Gloucester, his former boss clued everyone in on one reason why the popular moderate Republican is sitting out the biggest fight in politics right now.

Bill Weld, who served roughly 1.5 terms as governor of Massachusetts two-plus decades ago, is challenging President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. Baker is not.

“Part of the reason why I don’t have any problem or hesitation in running is that I’m not a sitting governor of a state who knows President Trump would try to defund every state program,” Weld said during an interview at a gathering of the National Association of Black Journalists. “That’s a bar for… Larry Hogan in Maryland. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts – he’s got enough stature to consider a national race, but he knows exactly what would happen.”

Big Red opened the window into his former cabinet secretary’s concerns in a conversation with Martine Powers, host of the Washington Post’s Post Reports podcast.

Weld’s hypothesis could be self-serving, and should therefore be discounted, because it would go part of the way toward explaining why Baker has not (yet?) endorsed Weld’s candidacy despite Baker’s myriad disagreements with Trump. But it makes sense, too. And it’s not just people running for president who Trump attacks with anything at his disposal; it’s also practically anyone of prominence who speaks out against him.

And if you continue Weld’s line of reasoning a little further, it could help explain why Baker posed for that awkward tarmac photo with Trump’s number two, Vice President Mike Pence, just a few weeks after decrying Trump’s “shameful and racist” attacks on four congresswomen.

The meeting with Pene took place in Nantucket, where the vice president was raising money for Trump’s re-election effort. Several miles offshore to the southwest of the island lies the proposed location for Vineyard Wind, which has been top of mind for Baker. The biggest thing standing in the way of what could be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States is the Trump administration, which is conducting a review that could throw off the timetable and put the whole project in jeopardy. (It figures that renewable energy would be one big exception to the Trump administration’s economy-juicing regulatory relief.)

Baker discussed that stalled project – and the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of NAFTA – during his meeting with Pence. Many Massachusetts programs also require federal permission. The state doesn’t just rely on the feds for funding. Given that, and Trump’s vindictive response to slights, it’s easy to see why the generally cautious governor isn’t tempting the president’s ire.

Weld doesn’t suffer from that type of hesitancy, and he was remarkably candid with Powers about his “perfectly legal” campaign strategy – to woo not just Republican voters, but also Democrats and independents who want to hinder the president’s re-election bid and are able to cast Republican ballots in open primary states.

“At a bare minimum, barest of minimums, I want to wound Mr. Trump in the New Hampshire primary,” said Weld. Though he is currently polling at around 9 percent to Trump’s 81 percent, Weld said the polls might not reflect his chances in open primary states “because the pollsters are not going to ask Democrats, ‘Who are you going to vote for in the Republican primary?’”

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

If Weld has any meaningful success with that strategy in the Granite State – where independents can vote in either party’s first-in-the-nation primary – that would presumably affect the crowded Democratic contest because voters can only participate in one party’s primary. The Republican primaries could get a little busier, too, as Joe Walsh, a Tea Party conservative and former congressman who voted for Trump in 2016, is making moves to get in the race.

Baker should have some time to ruminate on all of that and more during his summer respite on Cape Ann. Do you suppose it was Gloucester’s beautiful beaches and picturesque downtown that convinced Baker to vacation just four towns over from his Swampscott home? Or was it the allure of staying so close to the action while remaining just outside the frame?