In any other year, it would be the height of irresponsibility: a governor vowing to sit out a crucial presidential vote, setting a lousy example for his state's voters, present and future.
But in this crazy-scary election year, Charlie Baker's assertion that he cannot cast a ballot for his party's nominee (or anyone else) qualifies as an act of courage.
After waiting too long to take a definitive stand against him, Baker said in March he would not vote for now-presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, whose temperament and bigotry he had criticized. He has said he is not a fan of probable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (though there is little daylight between them on many issues). And on Tuesday, he ruled out voting for his old boss and buddy Bill Weld, a political vagabond whose latest home is with Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket.
"I love the man, OK, and I really do," Baker said of Weld, on Boston Herald Radio, "but I have all kinds of qualms with a lot of the Libertarian Party's positions."
So did Weld, at one point or another. For example, he once supported sensible gun control, capital punishment, and tough drug laws, all of which are antithetical to Libertarian beliefs. Perhaps he feels that Trump should be stopped, though it is far from certain his third party dalliance will help in that vital work. Perhaps he yearns for the spotlight, which long ago wandered away from him.
Baker's decision to sit on his hands is an act of courage only by way of contrast to the cowardice demonstrated by so many other Republicans all over the country. Those people rightly excoriated Trump as a dangerous demagogue, a xenophobe, a narcissist and more just months ago. But as he got closer to the nomination, they reversed themselves. Now they're all in with him, and they look like fools.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry, who called Trump a "cancer on conservatism," is now open to becoming his running mate. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said "a speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president," also endorsed the man he called "an orange-faced windbag." Ditto Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and of course Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose 180 was especially humiliating. The surrender of House Speaker Paul Ryan, though it's taking a while, is inevitable.
There are many more. With a few admirable exceptions — like our own former governor Mitt Romney, who has made an epic effort to stop the madness — they're all putting the interests of their party, and/or their own political fortunes, above the country's.
Compared to them, Baker is a hero. Sadly, that's not saying much.
The governor has far less to lose than many national politicians. He appears to have no higher ambitions beyond reelection, so he need not fear the wrath of party bigs, or of Trump fans in more conservative states. He remains phenomenally popular with Massachusetts voters, a goodly chunk of whom gave Trump his landslide victory here in the primary. And he has stacked the local GOP with people who share his moderate outlook.
Given those strengths, Baker could likely afford to do the really brave thing — say he's voting for Clinton, as some national conservatives have done. That would do more to stop Trump than simply sitting on his hands. But he told the Globe in March that he was "not much of a fan" of hers, and a few days ago he told Boston Public Radio he thinks she has "a big believability problem."
Would he ever vote for a Democrat? He has never done so for president. Though he did vote for former Boston city councilor Larry DiCara in the mayoral race of 1983.
But it's a long time between now and November. Plenty of time for Trump to terrify. And plenty of time for Baker to change his mind, hold his nose, and vote for Clinton. Close the curtain, Governor: Nobody needs to know.