Governor Charlie Baker left Massachusetts earlier this month to attend a secretive conference off the Georgia coast, huddling with conservative intellectuals, technology moguls, and top Republican politicians, a trip that was not disclosed on his official schedule or by his aides at the time.
Breaking with protocol followed by his predecessors, the governor’s office did not announce the out-of-state travel, which typically carries taxpayer costs for security and constitutional shifts in governing power. For the weekend of March 4, the state’s lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito, was effectively in charge, without the public’s knowledge.
Baker’s trip took him to Sea Island, home to posh resorts, for the so-called World Forum, an elite, off-the-record gathering of right-leaning power brokers hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The conference reportedly evolved into a discussion of how to counter Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
For months Baker was critical of Trump, but did not declare until after the Massachusetts primary that he would not support the front-runner should he secure the nomination. The governor often says he tries to avoid national politics, but the trip to Georgia represents the latest in a series of his encounters with national GOP groups.
Hours before Baker left, his communications director told the Globe that Baker could not make time for an interview because he had a flight to catch. But Baker aides never disclosed where Baker had gone, or even confirmed that he had left the state.
An e-mail from a Globe reporter to communications director Tim Buckley on Tuesday night asking about the governor’s travels went unreturned.
On Wednesday, after a Globe reporter told the spokesman the newspaper was aware of the Sea Island visit, Buckley acknowledged that Baker had made the trip and said he was accompanied only by his State Police detail. He said Baker returned Sunday.
“He participated in a forum about education where he talked about the importance of vocational technical education,” Buckley said.
Baker’s official public schedule, published daily during the week, also did not contain the information. An agenda for the weekend summit obtained by Huffington Post lists a “Charles Baker” as a participant in a Saturday-afternoon panel alongside controversial political scientist Charles Murray.
A spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin said that there is no legal requirement for a governor to notify anyone outside the administration if he or she leaves the state.
Previous governors have disclosed out-of-state travel, which under the state constitution transfers power to the next in command. Out-of-state trips also typically incur costs associated with governors’ security details, such as travel, lodging, and overtime.
Governor Deval Patrick was criticized in 2008 when he went to Manhattan to close a book deal as his bill to legalize casino gambling died a messy death in the Legislature. But even then, aides disclosed that the governor was leaving the state, according to news reports from that time.
The annual World Forum convenes business executives, politicians, and conservative intellectuals. Among the attendees listed in this year’s program were the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell; House Speaker Paul Ryan; Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin; Apple chief executive Tim Cook; and President George W. Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove. Jason Furman, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and former Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling were also listed on the agenda.
Writing about this year’s Sea Island gathering for the American Conservative, political commentator Pat Buchanan said that “the sky above Sea Island was black with corporate jets” and that “oligarchs colluded with Beltway elites” to conceive a way to stop the rise of Trump. Buchanan was not in attendance.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a conservative, Washington-based think tank widely considered an intellectual home for neoconservatism, an ideology that emphasizes a more aggressive foreign policy.
Indeed, several of those listed as participants in the conference were among the most prominent proponents of the Iraq War, including political commentator Bill Kristol, military scholar Frederick Kagan, and former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Murray, who works at AEI and is listed as appearing on the same panel with Baker, has written extensively about social welfare and education. His 1994 book “The Bell Curve” created a firestorm because of its comments on the ties between race and intelligence.
AEI discourages reporting on the getaway. In an e-mail in response to efforts to reach one of the AEI scholars, spokeswoman Judy Mayka wrote, “To maintain intellectual freedom and free discourse, the event is private and off-the record, therefore we do not comment further on the content or attendees.”
Due to its close affiliation with the GOP establishment, which has been largely aghast as Trump has headed ever more directly at the nomination, it was perhaps inevitable that an AEI-hosted retreat would eventually turn toward a discussion about how to stop him.
To describe the confab, Kristol tweaked a line from Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,’’ writing, “A specter was haunting the World Forum — the specter of Donald Trump. . . . There was much unhappiness about his emergence, a good deal of talk, some of it insightful and thoughtful, about why he’s done so well, and many expressions of hope that he would be defeated,” also according to Huffington Post.
The Sea Island summit has highlighted fault lines within the national GOP that have largely driven the party’s primary this cycle, with populists like Buchanan on one side and establishment figures like Kristol on the other.
When Baker was in Washington D.C. last month for a meeting of the National Governors Association, he and other Republican governors sat for a session with Rove that keyed largely on the threat Trump posed to down-ballot Republicans, according to two people who were present.
Baker has sought to portray himself as a moderate friendly to independent voters in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, but has also nurtured ties to his party. In November 2014, shortly after his election, Baker attended a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, a group that spent more than $10 million on behalf of his campaign.
Baker aides did not disclose that 2014 trip until after the Globe reported it.