Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Undebatable — Geoff Diehl and John Kingston are afraid of Beth Lindstrom

Undebatable — Geoff Diehl and John Kingston are afraid of Beth Lindstrom
Lesley Becker/Globe Staff/Adobe/File

Who’s afraid of Beth Lindstrom?

For starters, how about Geoff Diehl and John Kingston, Lindstrom’s two Republican primary opponents for US Senate? These two non-profiles in courage are avoiding debates with Lindstrom like the plague she represents — a voice of some reason in a Republican Party gone Trump-crazy. Meanwhile, as they keep their distance from their fellow Republican, Diehl and Kingston huff and puff about taking on Elizabeth Warren in November.

On Aug. 7, these three Republicans participated in an online radio debate sponsored by the Boston Herald. Since then, Lindstrom, a former aide to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and manager of Scott Brown’s iconic pickup truck and barn-coat Senate campaign of 2010, has shown up four times for debates that her rivals ducked.

Advertisement

A debate slated for Aug. 28, to be cohosted by WRKO and WBZ was canceled, according to the Lindstrom campaign. Diehl campaign consultant Holly Robichaud initially described that as “false” and insisted that Diehl replied “yes” to the debate. She also called Lindstrom “desperate.” Joseph Cueto, a spokesman for the Kingston campaign, said there were “moving parts” and that he didn’t know what Kingston would do about the debate. At a recent meeting with Globe editorial writers, Diehl said he won’t go to debates if Kingston doesn’t participate. Later in the day, Robichaud said she had just learned the debate was canceled for lack of a sponsor.

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Diehl, the GOP’s endorsed candidate and projected front-runner, is a state representative who co-chaired the 2016 state campaign for Donald Trump’s presidential bid and now argues his love for Trump will give him a seat at the president’s table. Kingston is a wealthy Winchester businessman who once put $1 million behind a quest to find a third-party presidential candidate to challenge Trump, and also offered to help finance a Lindstrom run for office — if she dropped out of the 2018 Senate race. Lindstrom has expressed support for Roe v. Wade, and for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Kingston and Lindstrom are moderates at heart who are both walking an ever-shifting line on Trump. After all, the president did win more than 300,000 votes in the 2016 Massachusetts Republican primary, not to mention more than 1 million votes here in the general election. Where everyone stands now on Trump after Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts would be easier to determine if all three duked it out in a debate. But Diehl and Kingston are keeping both debates and Lindstrom at bay.

Why the fear? In Diehl’s case, Lindstrom definitely scored points against him during that one Boston Herald radio debate. “Lindstrom was the clear aggressor in the hourlong encounter, trying to paint Diehl as unelectable because of his close ties to President Trump,” wrote Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld. Not a bad argument to trumpet, especially given this week’s admission by Cohen that Trump directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from talking about affairs they said they had with Trump. There’s also a new poll that found that Massachusetts currently hates Trump more than any other state in the nation.

As for Kingston, he wants to keep Lindstrom out of the spotlight as he sells himself as the well-heeled savior of the Massachusetts Republican Party. Early in the campaign, Kingston told a small group of Republican activists that he would have behind-the-scenes support from Governor Charlie Baker if he wins the primary. A Baker strategist quickly made sure everyone knew where the ever-cautious Baker stood in this race — with no one.

Advertisement

Of course, Baker wants to remain neutral in the GOP primary that also pits him against Scott Lively, an anti-gay preacher from Springfield. The most popular governor in America doesn’t want to stir the small but seething pot of Massachusetts Republicans who think he’s a sellout to Massachusetts Democrats. That’s not surprising for a governor afraid of his own shadow — which, given his height, is a pretty big one.

Diehl and Kingston are running from something else — an actual rival.

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