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In rare national interview, Baker says GOP needs to ‘move past’ Trump, extremism

Governor Charlie BakerMatthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker said in a televised interview Monday that the Republican Party needs to move on from former president Donald Trump after voters in the midterm elections roundly rejected “extremism.”

“One of the big lessons that the Republican Party nationally needs to take away from it is: Voters want collaborative elected officials. They don’t want extremes,” Baker told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview inside the governor’s ceremonial State House office. “Voters, generally speaking, especially in battleground states, aren’t interested in extremism. They just aren’t.”

Baker’s appearance marked a rare foray into national politics for the moderate Republican governor, who did not seek a third term this month and is slated to leave office in early January.

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He has long been at odds with the national GOP and Trump, who he has repeatedly criticized — and once said should be relieved of power — drawing Trump’s scorn in turn. His interview with Tapper gave him a wider platform to critique the national party’s direction just days after Republicans widely struggled at the ballot box, including by failing to wrestle control of the US Senate from Democrats and gaining what may only be a slight majority in the House.

In Massachusetts, Republicans also lost hold of the governor’s office after nominating Geoff Diehl, a Trump-backed conservative who later lost to Attorney General Maura Healey by nearly 30 percentage points. Baker did not endorse Diehl, nor get involved in the race.

Baker said voters largely want candidates who are willing to be collaborative and represent what Baker called “the fundamental tenet of democracy, that it’s supposed to be a distributed decision-making model — and you’re supposed to be OK with that.”

Baker taped the interview Sunday, according to an aide. Tapper said the governor had “invited” him to do the interview at the State House “because he was seemingly so distressed about where the Republican Party is headed.”

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Baker said the party should “move past” Trump, who is likely to enter the 2024 fold as the party’s clear front-runner should he announce his third White House bid on Tuesday, as he’s widely expected to do.

Baker said Trump’s “significant influence” over the party probably hurt it during the midterm elections, not only in Massachusetts and Maryland — where a Democrat will also succeed outgoing Republican Governor Larry Hogan — but “in many of those other battleground states.”

Democrats, for example, held Senate seats in Nevada, New Hampshire, and Arizona; flipped a GOP seat in Pennsylvania; and are vying to hold another seat in Georgia, where Senator Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent, and Herschel Walker, a Trump-backed former football star, are headed to a runoff.

“We need, as a party, to move past President Trump and to move on to an agenda that represents the voices of all those in the party and the people of the country,” Baker said. “Because that’s clearly one of the messages that was sent to us by battleground-state voters, and independents in particular, that they don’t want to play this game through the voice of one person or one personality.

“And,” he said, “they want us, if we want to win races and to govern, to completely change the way we think about how we do this.”

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To Baker, that means broadening the party’s appeal by reaching out to unenrolled and independent voters “of which we have more every day, who are willing to hear us out and . . . are discerning voters.”

Baker noted that in Massachusetts alone, unenrolled voters make up more than 60 percent of all registered voters, and often prove to be the difference-makers in elections.

Baker himself has repeatedly said he has no interest in seeking national office, and has yet to say what he plans to do once his second term ends. He vowed during his first term that “I am not nor will I ever be . . . a candidate for national office.”

On Monday, he appeared to suggest he may not hold appeal for Republicans outside the region when Tapper asked why the party was not pushing him — one of, if not the, most popular governor in the country — to seek the White House.

Baker has signed legislation that broadens access to abortion in Massachusetts, said he supports a federal ban on assault weapons, and has been a proponent for same-sex marriage.

“I’m a Northeast Republican,” Baker said, “which looks and acts a little different than most of, many of, the Republicans around the country . . . It’s a 50-state country, and that’s part of what makes it beautiful and gorgeous, and also what creates a lot of our — a lot of the noise that goes on at the national level.”

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Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.