Trump to the rescue?

It has been the received wisdom in these parts that the election of Donald Trump has presented one huge headache after another for our endangered species moderate Republican governor. Everywhere Charlie Baker turns, pesky reporters want him to comment on the latest outrage emanating from the Oval Office — from “shithole” countries whose emigres we don’t want to health care legislation that would strip coverage from millions of Americans and decimate the state budget.

What if it turns out that view has it all wrong? Imagine a White House run today by President Chris Christie (Baker’s choice for about 48 hours before New Hampshire voters offered their verdict on the New Jersey governor)? Or how about a President Cruz or President Rubio?

There would be no obvious grounds for Baker to categorically distance himself from any of the 2016 GOP also-rans. So he would be heading into a reelection battle in heavily Democratic Massachusetts tethered to a Republican administration in Washington that would undoubtedly have pushed policies unpopular with a decent share of moderate Bay State voters.

But rather than having to defend every move from a Republican White House, Baker has been able to remind everyone that he called his party’s standard-bearer unfit from the start. Maybe Donald Trump is not Baker’s worst nightmare but instead his salvation.

That is one impression given by Baker’s State of the State address last night and the coverage it received. If there was an overriding takeaway from the speech, which, as the Herald’s Matt Stout says, “eschewed ground-shaking announcements,” it was Baker’s emphasis on bipartisan cooperation and a shunning of schoolyard name-calling in favor of substantive governing. Those were clear references to the mess in Washington and the petulant GOP potentate at the center of it.

That has to be sweet music to the ears of the Baker reelection operation.

A Herald editorial fairly gushes over Baker’s dignified and modulated manner, headlining its take, “Still a shining city.” The Herald news story headline proclaims, “Baker throws shade at D.C. dysfunction.” Meanwhile, the headline over the Globe print edition story says Baker’s speech promoted “teamwork, decency.” Not exactly fighting words for his Democratic opponents to pounce on. The story’s subheadline: “Hails pragmatism as he further distances himself from Trump.”

What’s remarkable about all the media framing of this as an anti-Trump speech was that Baker never called out the president once by name. He mentioned his opposition to the Affordable Care Act repeal attempt, and trumpeted the signing of state legislation mandating contraceptive coverage in Massachusetts. But he never slammed Trump directly, and he stayed away from controversial issues like the immigration debate in Washington.

Baker teed up a few initiatives going forward — on higher education, housing, and the opioid crisis. But a good deal of his speech focused on bipartisan comity and all the ways the state is “hitting on all cylinders,” an era of economic good times for which he was all too happy to share credit for with Democratic lawmakers.

In post-speech reaction on WBUR, Democratic gubernatorial contender Setti Warren repeatedly highlighted the woeful state of the regional commuter rail system. (At least three commuter rail lines experienced noteworthy delays during last night’s evening commute.) Fellow Democratic hopeful Jay Gonzalez issued a statement declaring, “If Charlie Baker were CEO of a company, he would be fired.”

But Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill had nothing but praise for the governor. “He talked about what we were able to do together, unlike many other states where we see partisanship getting involved,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler called it a “very uplifting speech,” adding, “There is no partisanship when we get things done.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh continues to sound like a Democratic leader who’s unlikely to give much of push to whomever emerges as Baker’s Democratic challenger. “Anyone who makes it to the final has their hands full,” Walsh tells MassLive’s Gin Dumcius. “I think it’s going to be a difficult race, I mean, particularly when you see the accomplishments he’s laid out of the last three and a half years as governor.”

Not exactly the talking points state party chairman Gus Bickford would have drafted for him.

Meanwhile, today’s Globe print edition features a photo of Baker in his most frequent pose — leaning in for a selfie with an admiring fan. In this case, it is Democratic state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield. If others in the House are jealous, not to worry. The governor will no doubt be happy to meet up for selfies with any of Gonzalez’s Democratic colleagues in their districts as he hits the campaign trail.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

A Globe editorial echoes several recent reports in questioning whether a fair investigation of the Sen. Stan Rosenberg can be overseen by that chamber’s Ethics Committee.

The Cannabis Control Commission is looking for permanent office space but may not settle in Boston. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A flurry of new apartments in downtown Worcester are changing the city. (Telegram & Gazette)

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund will seek state funding to rebuild a sea wall if the town can prove ownership through deeds and easements. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Special counsel Robert Mueller questions Attorney General Jeff Sessions for hours, setting the stage for a possible sit-down with President Trump. (Associated Press)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has withdrawn his offer to Trump to support funding to build a border wall in exchange for movement on immigration. (New York Times)

Jerome Powell was confirmed as chairman of the Federal Reserve, replacing Janet Yellen. (Time)

Can individual states save net neutrality? (Governing)

The Financial Times goes undercover at a major charity event attended by high-powered men in London and uncovers the men behaving very badly to the women hostesses.

ELECTIONS

Holy Cross administrator Jamie Hoag says candidates shouldn’t have to be rich to run for office. He would allow them to draw salaries from the campaign funds they raise. (CommonWealth)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Low-income tenants rallied at the State House to urge lawmakers to pass a measure to retain rent limits as restrictions on decades-old affordable housing are expiring. (State House News Service)

Tom Farragher profiles a Western Mass. family that has reluctantly decided to throw in the towel on its Shelburne dairy farm because it’s not financially viable. (Boston Globe) The winter issue of CommonWealth features a look at one strategy to help save the region’s vanishing dairy farms: equipping farms with anaerobic digesters, which combine cow manure with food waste to produce electricity for sale.

A new report says many social-services nonprofit agencies are struggling to survive because of significant financial stress. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

The search for a new education commissioner, now narrowed to three candidates,  will reveal a lot about where the state is headed policy-wise. (CommonWealth)

After a lengthy dispute about whether a new high school should go downtown or on the outskirts of the city, the Lowell City Council now appears to be dithering about where downtown the new facility should go. (Lowell Sun)

A federal suit against the Stoughton High School principal accuses her of conducting a “sham and biased investigation” into the relationship between a teacher and a student in an effort to protect the teacher. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

More fallout from the decision to limit the number of health plans state workers can choose from for insurance coverage: Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which are both being cut from the list, say they’ll take a bit financial hit and Tufts says it’s likely to mean layoffs. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Steven Kadish, the governor’s former chief of staff, will head a commission looking at longer-range issues affecting  transportation, including vehicle electrification, autonomous vehicles, and climate change. (State House News)

Norwell, which pays more than $71,000 annually in assessment to the MBTA despite having no direct access to buses, boats, or trains, could be eligible to receive some of that back for reimbursement of transportation the town provides for elderly and disabled. (Patriot Ledger)

Bicycling advocates, highlighting video of the incident that they obtained, are criticizing police and prosecutors for not bringing charges against a New Jersey truck driver who they say was at fault in the death of a cyclist he struck on Mass. Ave. in Boston in 2015. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

As the state prepares to secure a large amount of clean energy, a nasty fight has broken out over the Northern Pass project.  The Conservation Law Foundation took another jab at the proposed Eversource Energy transmission line from Canada in an ad, a union backing the proposal fired back in an op-ed, and CLF countered. (CommonWealth)

Gordon Van Welie, who oversees the New England power grid, took his energy analysis to Capitol Hill. He also agreed with a West Virginia senator that the LNG market doesn’t make a lot of sense. (CommonWealth)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial warns of negative fallout from President Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

A day after reporting on needles washing ashore along the Merrimack River, the Herald says it’s also a problem on the Neponset River.

A new report says warming temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are threatening the lobster population. (Gloucester Times)

SPORTS

New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni veers from the political, sort of, to declare he will not watch the Super Bowl because the Patriots are President Trump’s team and the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles are obnoxious. Which is why he writes about politics.