Former president Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed Geoff Diehl, a longshot Republican candidate in the 2022 race for Massachusetts governor.
In a statement, Trump said Diehl “will be an outstanding Governor for the state of Massachusetts, and it is my honor to give him my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
A former state lawmaker who was one of the most conservative representatives on Beacon Hill, Diehl was the Republican nominee for US Senate in 2018. He lost that race to Senator Elizabeth Warren by 24 percentage points.
In his endorsement, Trump slammed Governor Charlie Baker, who has not said if he’s running for reelection in 2022. The former president called him a “RINO” — Republican in name only — “who has done nothing for the Republican Party.”
He continued with a litany of attacks, criticizing Baker for everything from his stance on crime and his COVID-19 response to transportation and climate issues.
“Baker is definitely not an American First or Make America Great Again kind of guy,” Trump wrote. “Geoff Diehl, on the other hand, is a true patriot.”
Trump’s endorsement of the conservative Diehl arrives amid deep divisions in the Massachusetts Republican Party, which is split between Trump loyalists and moderates who back Baker.
A popular second-term chief executive who eschews national political controversy and touts his collaborative, bipartisan approach, Baker has said he’s still talking with his family about whether to seek a third term. Sometimes a loud Trump critic, Baker has said he did not vote for president in 2020.
Trump also attacked Baker on Twitter in September 2020 after Baker defended the use of mail-in ballots.
“RINO Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts is unsuccessfully trying to defend Mail In Ballots,” Trump tweeted, repeating without evidence claims that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud.
The endorsement comes just a day after Diehl falsely claimed that “the 2020 election was rigged,” an often-repeated line from Trump acolytes.
Diehl also called on Baker this week to reject a bill that would allow for mail-in voting permanently, claiming without evidence that absentee ballots have led to fraud.
Experts say there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud; Massachusetts elections officials say they are not aware of any recent voter fraud cases.
Diehl recently participated in a protest outside a Baker fund-raiser held on Cape Cod, exemplifying the split within the Massachusetts GOP. The party’s current chairman, Jim Lyons, has criticized Baker and aligned himself with Trump, leaving many on the Republican State Committee frustrated.
Diehl said in a statement Tuesday that the endorsement came after a phone call with Trump, and he pledged to follow the former president’s lead.
“Like the President, I want people to feel like government isn’t working against them and that they can enjoy the individual freedoms our state and country were founded upon,” Diehl said.
He faces an uphill battle to earn the Republican nomination in the race, let alone win as a Trump supporter in a general election.
While Trump is hardly popular in Massachusetts, his support could prove persuasive for a narrow slice of the state voting in a Republican primary. Diehl has consistently attacked Baker from the right, accusing him of taking COVID-19 restrictions too far to the detriment of small businesses.
Three major Democratic candidates also have launched campaigns for governor: state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, former state senator Ben Downing, and Harvard professor Danielle Allen.
None has the name recognition of Baker, or of another potential candidate, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat whose $3.3 million campaign account and national reputation would make her a formidable opponent. Healey has yet to announce her plans.
Though he has yet to say if he’s running, Baker raised more than $173,300 in September, marking his best month of campaign fund-raising in two years. A campaign spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on the Trump endorsement Tuesday night.