Week after week, a ragtag crew of hateful cultists gathers near the governor’s house in Swampscott, their giant Trump flags, and sometimes the Confederate banner, flapping in the ocean breeze.
They are the worst of the GOP, loudly proclaiming fealty to a former president who is the worst of humanity. They rail on common-sense, life-saving protections against a virus that continues to fell Americans, even as the deaths fall more heavily on bitter-enders like themselves. They continue to nurse the Big Lie, clinging to the falsehood that last year’s election was rigged.
And they utterly despise Governor Charlie Baker. Why? Because he is a member of a vanishingly small minority of Republicans nationally, a moderate who believes in individual rights, bipartisanship, democracy and, worst of all, actual facts.
Despite themselves, Republicans like these protesters have been central to the governor’s popularity: Time and again, Baker has benefited from comparisons to the increasingly unhinged elements that have taken over his party. The more the cultists, the dysfunctional state party, and even Trump himself target Baker, the more reasonable he looks, further endearing him to Democrats and unenrolled voters, among whom he enjoys astronomically high approval ratings.
But the state party has also been a monumental pain in his behind, criticizing Baker for being insufficiently loyal to the former president. Trump has pilloried Baker and endorsed MAGA candidate Geoff Diehl for governor. Baker’s people say he could have bested Diehl in the primary, but victory would have required Baker to mobilize large numbers of unenrolled voters to outweigh his fellow Republicans in September. Then, barring some dramatic development, Baker would have been pretty much unbeatable in November.
To get to that downhill run to reelection, Baker would have had to engage the elements in his own party that he has so studiously avoided taking on over the last six years. Rarely has he directly criticized Trump, or let himself be drawn into national shouting matches, preferring instead to put his head down and do what he thinks is best for his state. Running against Diehl, Baker would have had no choice but to be drawn into battles for which he has little appetite.
Still, Baker said that Trump’s endorsement of Diehl wasn’t a factor in his decision to forgo a run for reelection in 2022. That didn’t stop GOP party chair Jim Lyons — and later Trump — from claiming victory in a press release on Wednesday afternoon, taking credit for pushing the incumbent out.
“Our party remains committed to the America-First agenda advocated by President Donald J. Trump,” Lyons’s statement read, “and it’s clear to me that Charlie Baker was shaken by President Trump’s endorsement of another Republican candidate in Geoff Diehl.”
Lyons should savor his victory while he can. Diehl will never be governor. His nihilistic state party, hemorrhaging supporters and money, will continue to drive itself — not Massachusetts — into a ditch. The next governor of the Commonwealth will almost certainly be a Democrat.
Baker, who has no hankering for higher office, will be watching from his stately white house in his pretty Swampscott neighborhood, soon to be mercifully bereft of the flag-waving protesters whose relentless presence weighed on his whole family.
Wanting to spend more time with the family has become a punchline when it comes to political exits. It may not be the only reason for his departure, but in Baker’s case, it’s genuine. He watched for years as Alzheimer’s claimed his mother, Betty, gradually carrying off pieces of her, just as she’d long predicted, given so many on her side of the family had fallen to the disease. She died in 2016, aged 84.
On the eve of his first inauguration, Baker said he was sure the disease would come for him, too, one day.
“I look like her, and I think like her, and I speak like her,” he told me in January of 2015. Baker, now 65, seemed resigned.
May it never come to pass. But to love somebody with dementia is to hear that clock ticking on your own life, and that reorders one’s priorities. It’s a pull more powerful than anything the shabby souls of the state GOP could ever muster.
Now Baker gets to write his next chapter. Good for him.
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.