Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Feeling queasy about Charlie Baker’s endorsement of Trump-loving Geoff Diehl

September 9, 2018 - L Street Tavern Governor Charlie Baker tends bar and talks with Brian McCourt (R) (R) and patron Paul McCourt of Newton, MA (L) Governor Charlie Baker campaigns at the L Street Tavern in South Boston Photo by Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Governor Baker tends bar at the L Street Tavern in South Boston on Sunday.

Governor Charlie Baker kicked off his reelection bid with an indigestion-inducing stew of beer, banter, and support for Geoff Diehl, a Trump-loving US Senate nominee.

Baker, who tops the state Republican ticket, gave his blessing to everyone on it. That includes Diehl, who cochaired Trump’s presidential campaign in Massachusetts and is now running against Senator Elizabeth Warren with a promise to give Massachusetts a seat at the president’s table. Thanks, but no thanks.

That table belongs to a president committed to weakening women’s rights while protecting gun rights; building a border wall while separating immigrant families; embracing tax policies that enrich the already rich; and destroying environmental protections, along with whatever is left of Obamacare. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg called President Trump. Based on recent reports, Trump’s inner circle remains on high alert to stop presidential commands that are not just deplorable, but threaten our national security.

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Why would a state that dislikes Trump more than any other send a senator to Washington to help Trump carry out his agenda? And why would a governor of that state back a pro-Trump nominee? Baker said he didn’t vote for Trump and has called out the president as “disgraceful,” while opposing specific Trump policies on health care and immigration. Yet he’s with Diehl. That essentially puts him in the same backbone-challenged category as all those congressional Republicans who say they disagree with Trump but still vote his way.

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Baker sells himself as a champion of bipartisanship, but as he runs for reelection, it’s all about the politics of survival in the blue state of Massachusetts. His Republican base doesn’t love him. In last week’s primary, Baker received 173,776 votes, or 64 percent of those cast. Despite that margin, nearly 100,000 votes went to his opponent, Scott Lively, an antigay conservative preacher from Springfield, who’s now urging Republicans to take Baker down in 2018 and regroup behind a “principled conservative” in 2022. Lively also boasted that his primary campaign “fatally wounded RINO (Republican In Name Only) Charlie and he will lose in November even if we tried to save him.”

On one hand, the prospect of an anti-Baker protest movement draining Republican votes away from him in November puts extra pressure on Baker to endorse Diehl. After all, in Massachusetts, the numbers are always tough for Republicans. Democrat Jay Gonzalez won his party’s nomination with 346,873 votes. His opponent, Bob Massie, came in second with 191,622 votes — which means the loser of that primary contest earned almost 20,000 more votes than Baker. In 2014, Baker beat Democrat Martha Coakley by a mere 40,000 votes. On old-fashioned paper, that leaves little room for error in 2018. But does the greatest threat of error come from the right or from the left?

If you believe the hype, Baker has nothing to fear from Gonzalez. However, if you believed the hype, incumbent US Representative Michael Capuano had no reason to fear challenger Ayanna Pressley. Yet Pressley ended Capuano’s 20-year career in Congress by energizing a wave of new progressive voters, who, theoretically, could get behind Gonzalez too. Especially if they start to see Baker, through Diehl, as a proxy vote for Trump. On cue, Gonzalez pressed that case, telling voters, “By supporting Geoff Diehl, Charlie Baker — let’s be clear about this — he is supporting Donald Trump in his efforts to take this country backwards.”

Imagine if Baker had stood up and said he couldn’t support Diehl because of Diehl’s support for the Trump agenda. He’d lose Trump supporters, but he would win grudging respect from progressives for sticking to principle. Instead, the most popular governor in America will walk that ever-cautious and always defensive Charlie line.

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He will embrace Diehl but try to keep his distance from him.

He will serve up beer and banter to make it easier for voters to swallow his endorsement of an unabashed Trump lover.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.