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Editorial

Baker needs to back a new horse

Massachussets Gov. Charlie Baker appeared with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Feb. 6 in Bedford, N.H.
Massachussets Gov. Charlie Baker appeared with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Feb. 6 in Bedford, N.H. Elise Amendola/AP

Where’s Charlie Baker?

The Massachusetts GOP holds its presidential primary on Tuesday, but Baker, the state’s top Republican, has been keeping a low profile. The presidential candidate he endorsed, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, dropped out of the race weeks ago, and Baker hasn’t made a second pick

That’s too bad. Baker could make a difference at a critical time. The governor ought to use some of his carefully amassed political capital to convince Republicans and unenrolled voters to back one of Donald J. Trump’s opponents, with the goal of keeping the New York businessman’s delegate haul from Massachusetts as small as possible.

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Baker clearly doesn’t like Trump, and has said as much plenty of times. He expressed deep alarm at Trump’s xenophobic call to forbid Muslims from entering the United States. When Baker endorsed Christie, he bemoaned the “slide of the party” during the primaries, and specifically called out Trump. “I don’t believe Mr. Trump has the depth of experience, the temperament, or the seriousness of purpose to be our next president,” Baker said earlier this month.

Now that Baker has the best chance he’s ever likely to get to do something about that slide, why stay on the sidelines? If Baker actively campaigned for a Trump opponent like Ohio governor John Kasich, he might help push his party in the right direction. He’d also probably help himself, bolstering the middle-of-the-road image that got him elected governor in the first place.

Under the Republican primary rules in Massachusetts, unenrolled voters can vote in the GOP primary. That’s the constituency that Baker won over in 2014, and may have the credibility to rally for a Trump opponent. And since Massachusetts GOP delegates are allocated in proportion to the popular vote in the primary, just by chipping away at Trump’s margin of victory Baker would do a service to the party.

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Direct appeals to unenrolled voters during primaries can make some politicians antsy. Hard-core partisans may bristle if Baker asks outsiders to vote in their primary.

But the law allows it. And, who knows: if thousands of unenrolled voters participate in a Republican primary for the first time on Tuesday, some of them might even get into the habit. In a state where one-party rule has been the norm in the Legislature for decades, the state party could use the exposure.

Baker has plenty of other things to worry about, and an understandable reluctance to wade into the demolition derby of national politics. But inaction sends a message, too, and Baker shouldn’t let Trump win Massachusetts without a fight.