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Baker needs to dump Trump

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Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.Jessica Rinaldi

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first elected Republican to say he would never vote for Donald Trump.

Good for him. Now Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts should follow his example.

A spokesman for Baker said the governor is not voting for Trump in the Massachusetts Republican primary. While that's a rhetorical step up from the "unlikely that I am voting for Donald Trump" statement that Baker made last week, it doesn't equal Sasse's absolute declaration.

The Nebraska senator said he isn't "an establishment Republican" and would never support Hillary Clinton. If it comes down to Trump vs. Clinton, he said he would push for a third-party option. "Mr. Trump's relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation," said Sasse in a Facebook post.

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As Trump stands ready to score big on Super Tuesday, Baker — the governor with the highest approval rating in America — seems stymied by the mogul's dominance, and the polls that show him headed for a huge victory here in Massachusetts. Baker has no plans to endorse a last-minute antidote to Trump, spokesman Tim Buckley said, even as the words out of Trump's mouth grow more poisonous every day.

Pressed to respond to Trump's weekend musings on whether to accept or reject support from David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Buckley issued this statement: "Governor Baker strongly believes that any candidate, including Donald Trump, should immediately disavow support from Duke and all white supremacists, as their hatred and evil have no place in politics and should be rejected by all."

That matches Baker's previous denunciations of outrageous Trump statements about Muslims and women. Baker has been talking the talk. But he's still not walking the formal walk away from Trump as definitively as he can and should, given all the political capital he has to burn.

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Of course, Baker was badly burned in his first attempt to stop Trump. When Baker endorsed Governor Chris Christie right before the New Hampshire primary, he said he was choosing him as the sane alternative to Trump — although payback for Christie's support for Baker's gubernatorial bid no doubt also figured in.

So much for sanity and loyalty. Christie dropped out of the race after a poor New Hampshire showing. Then, last week, the New Jersey governor backed Trump. While some other Republicans expressed shock and outrage at Christie's move, Baker only said he was "surprised"; he wouldn't even acknowledge disappointment.

He should have been ripping mad. Meg Whitman, who served as Christie's national finance cochair, lambasted Christie's embrace of Trump as "an astonishing display of political opportunism." But Baker just said Christie was his own man.

By nature, Governor Fix-It is more inclined to stick his head under a broken-down Red Line train and try to repair it than to throw himself in front of the Trump Express and try to heal the Republican party.

But maybe something else is going on here? Baker was recently caught trying to replace conservative members of the Republican state committee with moderate Republicans. In doing so, he has riled up the conservative base in Massachusetts, which is all-in for Trump. Tiny as that group is, it can cause headaches for Baker — if he lets it.

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He shouldn't. There's a much bigger political headache ahead if Trump captures the nomination and, with it, the Republican Party.

In Massachusetts, Baker needs continued support from Democrats and unenrolled voters. They won't like any wavering on Trump and what he represents. Walking the line between presidential and local politics will only get harder for Baker.

Better to draw a clear line now and keep Trump on the other side of it.

It's not just the politically right thing to do. It's the right thing to do, period.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.