Donald Trump’s threat to imprison Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidency — “You’d be in jail” — may have stirred unease for the cast of Massachusetts politicians who have gone out of their way to savage him.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has ridiculed him as “a small, insecure money grubber.” Governor Charlie Baker has said Trump’s temperament is not fit for the presidency. Representative Seth Moulton has compared his rise to that of Adolf Hitler.
Now, Trump faces increasingly long odds of winning the White House. But should he do so, the possibility of political payback — with serious financial consequences — for Massachusetts seems ever more real.
There has long been evidence that Trump revels in revenge. “When people wrong you, go after these people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even,” Trump wrote in his 2007 book, “Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life.”
“Trump isn’t a guy who forgives and forgets,” said former state Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Nassour, who has been critical of Trump. “He has a very long memory, and he would make sure that we would be penalized.”
Trump has already shown his penchant for lashing out at Massachusetts political critics. He has engaged in memorable Twitter wars with Warren, whom he called “Pocahontas.” After Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh challenged him to take the ALS ice bucket challenge last year, Trump labeled Walsh “a clown” and suggested that the city “get a real mayor.”
But from the White House, a lashing could draw blood.
Massachusetts, like all states, relies heavily on the largesse of the federal government for aid for everything from transportation to education to health care.
In the fiscal year that ended in June, the state received more than $13 billion worth of federal money. According to Baker’s budget office, almost two-thirds of that is tied to mandatory spending programs embedded in law. Most of it is for Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor and disabled.
But the remaining chunk is tied to discretionary spending — for example, competitive grants the state won.
Who decides which states get a lot of that discretionary money? The executive branch of the federal government — which is to say, Trump or his appointees.
And even within mandatory programs, there is room for Washington to squeeze Boston.
The state has a special and complicated deal on Medicaid payments with the federal government that is being renegotiated. Should the deal end next summer without a new agreement, the state could stand to lose $1 billion a year.
Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said Massachusetts’ reliance on federal government has grown over the past decade.
In addition to providing money for health care and other key areas, she said, the federal government helps the state pay for its long-term investments, most notably in transportation.
“These monies,” McAnneny emphasized, “are important to the state’s financial health.”
William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, cautioned that there is much federal money that goes to states that the president cannot legally withhold without Congress changing the underlying laws.
“Mr. Trump would run right up against a Nixon-era precedent if he tried to withhold funds to its intended recipients,” Galston said.
But he acknowledged the president’s power to hurt a state in his or her crosshairs.
There are many discretionary areas. For example, Galston said, presidents can adopt a range of response to disasters. “It helps a lot in getting disaster relief fast if the president is on your side,” he said. “Presidents do have the discretionary authority to declare federal disaster areas and a vindictive president could withhold aid to a place that deserved it.”
And, history shows, specific Bay State institutions could also be targeted. President Richard Nixon, for instance, ordered aides to halt funds for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I want those funds cut off for that MIT,” Nixon told his chief of staff in a 1972 phone call.
(The New York Times reported that MIT’s offense may have been a lack of support for Nixon’s policy in Vietnam.)
Of course, a Trump administration may ultimately look kindly upon Massachusetts. Baker endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in his failed presidential run, and Christie is overseeing Trump’s transition planning. And Massachusetts Republicans backed Trump with more than 49 percent of the vote in the state’s GOP presidential primary in March.
Asked if the Baker administration is worried about retribution from a Trump White House, spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton did not directly answer the question.
“Governor Baker is focused on making government work for the people of the Commonwealth and will continue to work with all elected officials from our municipalities to our nation’s capital to make Massachusetts great, including the next presidential administration,” she said in a statement.
A Trump spokesman did not return an e-mail asking how the businessman would treat Massachusetts, should he win the Nov. 8 election.
Retribution from the Democratic, Libertarian, or Green Party nominee seems less likely than from a Trump White House.
Hillary Clinton has deep ties to the state, with many political operatives and business types considering themselves “Clinton people” dating back to her husband’s presidency. And both the Libertarian and Green party tickets have Bay State representation; former governor William F. Weld is running for vice president as a Libertarian, and former gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein, a Lexington resident, is seeking the presidency for the Green Party.
While Massachusetts has long been a lopsidedly Democratic state, even during Republican administrations, it has benefited from highly placed natives, from George W. Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card to Ronald Kaufman, who was a top Ronald Reagan political aide. And former governor Mitt Romney’s presidential ambitions further cemented national GOP ties to the state.
Looking ahead to 2017, even some Democratic politicians don’t predict retribution.
US Representative Michael E. Capuano, a liberal Democrat, said he thinks a Trump presidency would be bad for the country and, therefore, bad for Massachusetts. Since the state does reasonably well under many federal programs, he said, if Trump slashes everything, programs here will be hurt.
But, Capuano said in an interview, he doesn’t think Massachusetts would be targeted by a President Trump.
“He’s a reasonably successful businessman — I have no idea how successful he is, because we don’t know that,” he said. “But that being the case, I have to presume he knows that that’s the rule of business. It’s the rule of life. Put yesterday’s fights behind you and move forward.”