WORCESTER — Governor Charlie Baker, who this week urged Republicans to move on from Donald Trump, on Thursday shrugged off the former president’s announcement that he would again seek the White House, arguing he’s not alone in wanting an alternative to the twice-impeached Trump.
“It’s a little early to be forcing people who literally just got through a 2022 campaign to have to start thinking about a 2024 campaign,” Baker said a day after returning from Florida, where he gathered with other Republican governors for an annual meeting. “What everybody really wants right now is a chance to take a deep breath and maybe think a little bit about how they’re going to manage the rising costs of everything through the holiday season.”
Baker this week had made an unusual pivot to national television, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump’s influence hobbled the GOP during the midterm elections and that the party’s disappointing showing was evidence that voters “don’t want extremes.”
Throughout much of his tenure, Baker’s repeated criticisms of Trump have often been met with silence, even derision, from his fellow Republicans, pushing the second-term governor into what seemed like a lonely blue-state outpost within the GOP.
But Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he would again mount a presidential run did little to tamp down on potential challengers or criticisms that Trump, who sparked an insurrection with his lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him, bore the blame for the party’s failures to recapture the Senate and a slate of governor’s races.
Baker, too, said he found something amid Trump’s news: a receptive audience for his own view.
“The vast majority of the feedback I got from colleagues in Republican circles, based on my recent remarks, was a very similar sentiment,” he said. “There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who are anxious to move on. . . . There’s a lot of folks out there in our party who are looking at a different 2024.”
Many made that much clear. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu called Trump a “loser,” and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who months ago said she would support Trump if he ran again, declined to say this week if she would endorse him. Former vice president Mike Pence, a potential 2024 candidate himself, said Wednesday that he believes voters are “looking for new leadership.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reportedly received a round of applause at the governors’ meeting after he blamed Trump for the party’s failures over the last three federal elections.
Baker was among those who attended Christie’s speech, and said the message was similar to his own, that “it’s pretty clear what the voters of the country were telling the Republican Party generally on Tuesday.”
“Which is,” he said, “they’re not interested in extremists. They’re not interested in, sort of, the politics of bludgeoning.”
Baker did not address Thursday whether he intends to continue playing a larger voice nationally about the direction of the GOP. With seven weeks left in office, he said he’s focused on helping ease the transition for governor-elect Maura Healey, a Democrat, and come February, welcoming his first grandchild.
He also did not directly answer when asked if he wants to get involved in the selection of a new leader for the state Republican Party, which will hold its vote for chairman in January. Baker has long feuded with current chairman Jim Lyons, a conservative former lawmaker who, on Tuesday, attended Trump’s event announcing his third presidential campaign.
Lyons has not said whether he will seek another two-year term as chairman after a cycle in which his party lost the governor’s office and Democrats appeared poised to build further on their super-majority in the Legislature.
“There already are a lot of folks on the [Republican] state committee who have made pretty clear that they’re unhappy, as they should be, with the performance of the Mass. GOP in the recent election cycle,” Baker said.
Baker spent part of his morning Thursday fighting a cold while speaking at the Massachusetts Senior Care Association’s annual meeting, where he said he expects staffing “disruptions” across the health care industry will remain a challenge without a clear solution.
“If I had a third term,” he said, “I [would] fully expect to be spending a lot of time talking to you about it.”
A previous version of this story misidentified Chris Christie. He is the former governor of New Jersey. The Globe regrets the error.