Analysis: Mr. Baker ‘Goes To Washington’ — But Will He Seek The White House One Day?

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with governors in the State Dining Room of the White House on Feb. 22. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with governors in the State Dining Room of the White House on Feb. 22. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

It might be too early to start talking about the 2020 presidential campaign. There’s still plenty of unknowns about the 2016 race, and if this current cycle has taught us anything, it’s that conventional wisdom is not to be trusted. Anything can, and has, happened.

When speaking about his first year in office, Gov. Charlie Baker has often said, “Don’t be surprised when you get surprised.” This could also apply to the national political scene this year and beyond.

It’s a pastime of State House reporters to ponder if the guy down in the corner office on the third floor of the building might someday set up shop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The ink-stained wretches from almost 100 years ago, walking the same halls that I walk today, probably were wondering if Gov. Calvin Coolidge had the juice to go all the way. (He did.)

Back in the late 1980s, as a 20-something-year-old State House reporter, I had a front row seat to witness Michael Dukakis go from being one of a half dozen or so contenders to become the Democratic presidential nominee. We did the same when Mitt Romney set his sights on the White House late in his single term as governor. And we wonder today, despite his protestations he’s content as is, might Baker be a candidate for president somewhere down the line?

Baker’s ‘Pretty Special Experience’ At The White House

At a State House event on Tuesday afternoon Baker swooned as he told of his visit to the White House on Monday.

“One of the great things about being governor is you get to go to dinner at the White House with the President and First Lady, and the rest of the governors. Now I’m 59 years old, it takes a lot to impress me. But walking in the front door of that building, with my wife and walking down the hallways and seeing the photos and the paintings of the men and women who graced those corridors over the course of the last couple of 100 years is a pretty special experience,” he said.

After the event, when asked by a reporter if having seen the inside of the White House again, had he reassessed his own ambitions, Baker laughed as he waved his arms like an NFL referee after a missed field goal, and said only, “It’s a beautiful building.”

To be fair, all the nation’s governors were invited to dine with the Obamas at the conclusion of the National Governors Association winter meeting, and I’m certain some of them were picturing themselves living there.

Baker appears genuine when he says he has no national ambitions. He seems to be truly enjoying the job he’s held for roughly 14 months. But where will his head be in four years, especially if he is able to sustain his high favorability ratings, and coast to an easy re-election bid in 2018?

A couple things need to happen for Baker’s presidential stock to rise:

The 2016 Republican nominee for president must lose this November. If Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio are able to beat either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders this fall, it’s likely Trump, Cruz or Rubio would run for reelection in 2020, and all other Republicans would probably sit out until 2024, when Baker will be 68 years old.

But if Clinton or Sanders is victorious in November, the Republican Party will have to do another round of soul searching to figure out how they can recapture the White House. They’ll be looking for their candidates of the future, and if he wanted to be, Baker might be in that group.

Whatever is left of the so called “establishment” wing of the G.O.P. has to regain control of the party. If ultra-conservatives continue to call the shots nationally, Baker will likely be branded a RINO (Republican in name only) and he’d be dismissed early on.

But if the establishment is able to retake the reins, they might very well encourage Baker to consider a run. He’s a Republican in a predominantly Democratic state. He has (at least for now) very high favorability ratings. He’s got real-world business experience, and he’s a genuinely affable guy.

The only thing certain is Charlie Baker will be invited back to the White House to dine with the new president next year. Only Baker knows if he envisions his portrait hanging on the wall there. He might be surprised.

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