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Charlie Baker Is Voting For Geoff Diehl. It's His Latest Bow To The Party Of Trump

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker faces Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez during a debate at the studios of WBGH-TV in Boston on Oct. 17, 2018. (Meredith Nierman/WGBH-TV via AP)
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker faces Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez during a debate at the studios of WBGH-TV in Boston on Oct. 17, 2018. (Meredith Nierman/WGBH-TV via AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Some years from now, political science majors will look back on Charlie Baker’s gubernatorial career as a literal textbook example of calculated ambivalence.

Wednesday night, at a gubernatorial debate between Baker — a Republican — and Jay Gonzalez, the Democratic Party's challenger, the debate moderator, Jim Braude, pressed Baker on his recent endorsement of the Republican Party's Massachusetts ticket.

Braude asked Baker about his endorsement because that ticket includes the far-right conservative challenger to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who has pledged loyalty to Donald Trump and used racist dog whistles to call for nativist immigration policies. As Baker began to answer, Gonzalez asked, more bluntly, if Baker would vote for Diehl on Nov. 6. In the moment, Baker demurred. All he could say was that he would vote for himself, for his running mate, Karyn Polito, and maybe for Diehl.

But after the debate was over and the cameras stopped rolling, a gaggle of reporters confronted Baker, repeating Gonzalez's question. That time, Baker gave a very different answer. He confirmed that he would indeed vote for Diehl on Election Day.

Seriously, Charlie?

This is a brazen about-face, which Baker made before even leaving the debate venue. The incredible thing is, that it probably won't hurt his electoral odds here in Massachusetts.

The trouble with the idea that Charlie Baker is some sort of endangered old school Republican, is that it’s simply not true.

Baker routinely polls as one of the most well-liked governors in America. He's often esteemed and occasionally criticized for seldom taking a strong position on anything that voters might feel strongly about. Whether it’s schools, health care, immigration or taxation, Baker has proven an expert at toeing the line between GOP orthodoxy and what Massachusetts liberals seem to care about.

In a state like our commonwealth, this modus operandi affords Baker political currency because it reminds voters of the long-lost era when Eisenhower Republicans worked with Democrats to get things done together. But it’s a sugary tonic, considering that today’s GOP leadership is embracing authoritarianism and stacking the courts with activist judges.

The trouble with the idea that Charlie Baker is some sort of endangered old school Republican, is that it’s simply not true. Baker's hostility to health care expansion, immigration reform, green energy and progressive taxation have offered us hints of where his loyalties really lie, but his endorsement of Diehl puts those loyalties under a glaring spotlight.

It's confirmation that Baker is a party guy who will fight for what the GOP leadership wants — even if that means voting for Trump acolytes like Diehl.

Today, the extreme stakes of the Trump era are catching up to Baker, whose quiet fealty to the Republican Party agenda has finally placed him in an awkward position where he must choose between appeasing Massachusetts Democrats (who actually give Baker higher approval ratings than Republicans do) and GOP bigwigs.

The governor's opaque answer to whether or not he’s planning to vote for Diehl suggests that Baker understands that even his most ardent moderate and liberal supporters might take issue with his voting for a hard-right conservative over Warren. (Remember: Massachusetts Democrats disapprove of the job Trump is doing by a 27-point margin and growing — the widest gap in the nation.)

I don’t understand how those of us who see Baker as a reasonable bipartisan leader can put up with being disrespected.

And yet, the fact that Baker had the gall to backpedal on the Diehl question as soon as the cameras were off poses a tough question for likely Baker voters. Are you alright with being deceived?

Did anybody else find this just a little bit insulting?

As a longtime Massachusetts resident, I’ve been surprised by how amendable voters have been to Baker — especially because lots of these voters, including several friends and colleagues of mine, will often point to Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage and making health care more accessible as unshakable evidence that ours is a state of conscience and conviction. In this this era of dogmatic partisanship, I can understand how supporting a seemingly moderate Republican governor in a majority Democratic state might also feel bold and pragmatic to voters who don’t identify as Republicans.

But I don’t understand how those of us who see Baker as a reasonable bipartisan leader can put up with being disrespected. I don’t understand why Baker’s reversal on the Geoff Diehl question on Wednesday night hasn’t caused murmurs of doubt about his “moderate” credentials, and why Massachusetts voters remain highly likely to re-elect a governor who just tried to mislead us about his loyalty to the party of Trump.

Right now, in every corner of the nation, people are talking about reclaiming our democracy. But here in Massachusetts, it’s time for us to reclaim our history as a bold and progressive state that we can truly be proud of. We love our history of progressivism, just as we love our sports, our schools and so many other things that make Massachusetts a unique place. And we defend this stuff with zeal that’s famously known in states elsewhere. That zeal is our history.

So where is it when our governor treats us like fools?

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Miles Howard Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Miles Howard is a freelance writer who covers culture, travel and transformational politics.

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