Charlie Baker 2020.
Once, a reelection victory like Baker’s would automatically make him a serious Republican presidential contender — no matter how uninterested he claimed to be. But in President Trump’s GOP, there’s no place for a pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage, pro-transgender rights Republican, who also described Trump as “outrageous, disgraceful and a divider.”
Still, this is Massachusetts. Presidential dreams are part of the political DNA. And, there’s also precedent for a popular governor who loves the job to be talked into a White House run. It happened to Michael S. Dukakis. After winning reelection in 1986 with 69 percent of the vote, he told adoring supporters, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” Two days later, as Richard Ben Cramer recounted in “What It Takes” — the pre-Trump Bible for presidential contenders — John Sasso, the governor’s Svengali, “gave him the memo, the president memo, he’d been holding in his locked briefcase for the last three weeks.” The Duke’s first response was a head-shaking no. But eventually, he said yes. Running on competence and a booming economy, he won his party’s nomination.
Sure, the rest of the Dukakis story is sad Massachusetts history. So what? Somewhere, a Baker strategist is sketching out a White House path for America’s most popular governor. Only it’s not in a locked briefcase. It’s in a password-protected Google doc. Right, Will Keyser?
But seriously, if Sarah Palin thought she saw Russia from Alaska, Baker (and aides like Keyser), can definitely see New Hampshire from Massachusetts. Granite State primary voters gave former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney a double-digit victory over rivals who included Newt Gingrich. Romney, who tilted right after exiting the Bay State, went on to win the Republican nomination but lost to Barack Obama. Four years later, Trump, the most improbable candidate of all, won the White House and hijacked the GOP.
What’s next for Baker? Maybe he sticks with the nuts and bolts of state government. Maybe he fixes the T. Maybe he mulls a run as an independent, perhaps on a ticket with Michael Bloomberg. Or maybe he defies the post-Trump conventional wisdom and tests his New Hampshire appeal. Strange things happen when the future looks so bright that the winner needs Ray-Bans.