Mass. Governor Charlie Baker: I'm outta here

Mass. Governor Charlie Baker: I'm outta here
(Meredith Nierman/WGBH-TV via AP, Pool)

You can add one more name to the list of elected officials who will be “spending more time with the family” rather than running for another term next year, but this time it’s not a member of Congress. And in reality, you can make that two more names. Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that he will not be seeking a third term in office. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will also retire rather than opting to try to replace Baker. This came as unexpected news because Baker is one of the most popular governors in the country and his approval numbers up until this year suggested that he might have a fairly easy path. But there’s been a shift in the political landscape in the Bay State recently and it’s possible that he simply saw the writing on the wall. This will come as good news for Massachusetts Democrats who have been frustrated by their inability to put any dents in Baker’s political armor for most of the past decade but will now see a golden opportunity to take back the top office. (Politico)

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker won’t seek reelection next year, he announced Wednesday, in a move that surprised some in the state’s political class and will ripple down the 2022 ballot in Massachusetts.

And, in perhaps an even more shocking move, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito won’t run for governor in his place.

“After several months of discussion with our families, we have decided not to seek reelection in 2022,” Baker and Polito said in a statement sent to friends and colleagues. “This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth. Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor.”

As usual, there’s more to a story like this than what you read in the headlines or what the politicians choose to include in their retirement speech. Despite Baker’s stellar popularity numbers over most of his tenure, he’s come under criticism for his initial handling of the pandemic and some related issues. He’s also drawn the wrath of Donald Trump because of a variety of anti-Trump positions he’s taken. This has led to the strong likelihood that he would be facing a primary challenge from Trump-endorsed former state Rep. Geoff Diehl. A recent poll showed that Baker was actually more popular among Democrats than he was with his own party and he trailed Diehl in a hypothetical primary matchup.

The reality is that Baker has been a popular Republican in a blue state, but he never had a wide margin of error in winning races. The Massachusetts GOP seems to be splintered between Trump supporters and Trump’s detractors. Even if he manages to squeak out a primary victory, that may not translate to a third term. No matter how moderate he may seem to the general public, he can’t win a statewide election without the full support of his own party and that seems to be eroding.

This situation is kind of a shame to see unfolding. Conservatives may disagree with many of Baker’s positions, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been a valuable player on the GOP team. While many people may have forgotten this, the only reason that we don’t have Elizabeth Warren scolding all of us from a position in Joe Biden’s cabinet is that Uncle Joe knew that if he appointed Warren to his cabinet, Baker would have appointed a Republican to replace her, robbing the Democrats of their majority in the Senate. The same holds true for all blue-state GOP governors such as in Maryland and Vermont.

Any hopes of the GOP in Massachusetts duplicating Baker’s success seem more than distant. The things that make both Donald Trump and conservatives around the nation furious with Baker are precisely the reasons (and the only reasons) that he was able to find the amount of success he managed in Massachusetts. If a Trump-endorsed candidate like Geoff Diehl wins the nomination next year he will get zero support from the Democrats who were willing to go along with Baker and he will lose in a landslide. If another moderate Democrat manages to eke out a win against Diehl, they will not draw the full support of the Trump supporters among their own party and the result will almost surely be the same.

Baker’s time on the stage will draw to a close after next year. His Lt. Governor can clearly see the same signals and has no interest in throwing herself on her sword for that sort of food fight. With their departure, the GOP will almost certainly lose another spot in the balance of governors around the country. And any measure of restraint that Baker managed to exert over the worst liberal impulses of the Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature will depart with him.

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