Misery Index: Part I

Much like Prince’s parents, Tea Party Republicans are too bold and never satisfied. Massachusetts Governor-Elect Charles Baker is learning that lesson the hard way.

Gov.-elect Charlie Baker — still two months from taking office — is already facing friendly fire from his own party, with some conservative Republicans pledging to challenge him in 2018 if his much-vaunted bipartisanship veers too far left for their liking.

“If Charlie Baker tries to lead like a moderate and shuns conservatives like myself, yes, there will be 100 percent an effort to try to find a conservative, viable candidate to challenge him in 2018 for governor,” said Robert Cappucci, a GOP state committeeman from Medford. “No question about it. Absolutely.”

David Kopacz, the president of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, which calls itself “the Republican wing of the Republican Party,” told the Herald that Baker ignores them at his own peril.

“I’m not saying I have identified anyone who is or will (run in 2018), but that option is not being taken off the table. That will always be an option,” Kopacz said. “He’s been just what we’ve expected — pandering a little more to the left. He has no concerns for any conservatives who might have been out in the cold on this.”

Baker defeated Democratic opponent Martha Coakley in part by establishing the idea that he would not govern as a Fox News-influenced crackpot; his campaign commercials stressed over and over that he would govern in a “bipartisan” fashion. The problem is, the Fox News types in his party won’t stand for it, as Boston Magazine writer David Bernstein notes:

You can understand his dilemma. The party he belongs to is his Achilles heel, and any brash behavior by a party chair, national committee member, or minority leader in the house or senate, will be used against him as evidence that he’s part of the Crazy Party. So, he wants to make sure that the people in those positions are allies of his, and are prepared to temper not only their ideologies but also their tactics…

On the other hand, if he plays a heavy hand in controlling the state party’s decisions and direction, he becomes that much more directly tied to its actions. So, he’d better win those battles cleanly.

Which is why I have this suggestion for Baker: threaten to pull a U-ey.

Go get yourself a voter registration card. Fill it out to change your party to designation to “U” for unenrolled. Carry that card with you and show it to the committee members and GOP legislators who are tempted to join the rebellion. Take a pen in hand and ask them to give you the one excuse you need to leave the party and guarantee yourself re-election in 2018.

If you make the threat though, Charlie, be prepared to follow through. Some of those diehards would opt to be big fish in a shrinking pond. Many will even convince themselves that the party would thrive by jettisoning its electorally successful moderate Governor.

And sure, you might offend some of those people who spent a gazillion dollars on you via the Republican Governors Association. But that was all completely independent, uncoordinated activity, so you can’t possibly feel obligated to them for anything. Right? Isn’t that how it works?

Will Baker kneel down to the knuckleheads in the Bay State GOP? You’d figure he’d have enough clout to ignore them; certainly, those hardliners don’t have the prominent media platform they used to have in the Commonwealth. However, fear of a future primary challenge is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, there’s nothing to be gained by trying to placate the perpetually aggrieved. That’s a lesson Republicans like Baker should learn. Come to think of it, Democrats should learn this lesson as well…

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.