Republicans as a party have trouble convincing women that they are sensitive to their problems and aspirations. While Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker claims to be a moderate, he has recently said several things that failed to separate him from the Neanderthal wing of his party. If he’s so smart, how come he says so many dumb things?
Bad Goodell. Asked whether the embattled head of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, should resign over his bungling of the Ray Rice domestic assault case, Baker said: "If we fired everybody every time we got into one of these situations, I don't know. I would like to see more. I would like to see more data and more information."
Goodell had levied a measly two-game suspension against Rice, one that even he quickly recognized was an anemic response to an act of nationally televised violence. Perhaps Baker was on the spacecraft hurtling to Mars, but he claimed he hadn’t seen the videos of Rice cold-cocking his now-wife out on an elevator and dragging her limp body into the lobby.
When Baker, like Goodell, finally realized the punishment didn't fit the crime, he quickly attempted to retract his first impression. Trouble is, his first impression was typical of one that an ex-CEO would give: “I don’t know enough.”
Before Baker could bail out of his blunder, Democrat Martha Coakley’s campaign pounced and produced a video calling for Goodell’s head. It’s amazing how a man running on his experience could make such a rookie mistake.
Mistakes keep coming. In the infamous Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court took away a woman’s right to use her company’s insurance for a safe abortion if her employer didn't believe in the procedure. The former health insurance executive and director of health and human services for the Weld administration said: It “doesn’t matter” in Massachusetts. Only he’s wrong. Once he realized his blunder, Baker said that if elected, he’d set aside $300,000 to cover women affected by the decision.
The sweetheart deal. Baker on Tuesday blundered again, calling a female reporter for Fox 25 “Sweetheart.” In disbelief, Sharman Sacchetti repeated, “Sweetheart?” Baker claimed he was joking. Accompanied by a condescending tap on the shoulder, his dismissive comment was an attempt to control a conversation, one that women experience all too often. “Now don’t you worry your pretty little head about that,” he seemed to be saying. (What is this, "Gone with the Wind"?) His sweetheart joke made it onto Fox local news and was picked up by national websites. People in Illinois must think Baker is some kind of yahoo. Sure, he may have been tired, annoyed or unprepared, but it doesn't get any easier in the governor’s office.
Coakley hasn't had a gender-based line of attack against Baker. Now he’s given her a gift, a prize that she had to do nothing to receive. It’s the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes of political wins.
No help. Baker’s running mate, Karyn Polito, can’t help. She has a history of antagonizing women activists by supporting anti-abortion legislation and opposing same-sex marriage in the state Legislature right after the state’s top court legalized gay marriage. Her best move is to stay out of it. Asking her for help is like a man in a burning building yelling, “Throw me some gasoline!”
More gasoline. The last time Baker ran in 2010, he appeared at a rally for controversial congressional candidate Jeff Perry. You may recall that as a police officer, Perry was involved in an illegal strip search of two teenage girls. The story was big and sustained news on the Cape and South Shore. At a Republican event in Dennis, Baker said, "I’m here to support all the candidates. I'm here to support Jeff.” Jeff lost.
A cavernous gender gap. Baker was already suffering from a yawing gender gap, trailing Coakley by 20 points among women voters in WBUR’s recent poll. His handling of Goodell and dissing of a female reporter probably cost him even more votes of intelligent, open-minded women. We may be witnessing the crumbling of the myth of Charlie Baker the Smart Moderate.
Shift in issues. If Baker feels he’s in trouble, he will go hard at Coakley in their first debate on Monday, probably on taxes and welfare, two weapons Republicans prefer. He and his party and super PAC allies need to change the subject. That raises another question: Can Coakley take a punch?
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.