Sorry, Charlie: The Fiction of “Moderate Republicanism”

One week prior to the 2016 election, I observed that regardless of whether Donald Trump won or lost, “Elected officials who have positioned themselves as ‘reasonable’ Republicans (think Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Maine Senator Susan Collins) won’t be able to pull off that particular gambit for much longer.” In the case of the former, the collapse of his illusion of moderation has occurred far faster than even I expected:

This is what slipping into authoritarianism looks like: The popular governor of the bluest of blue states refusing to condemn the appointment of a racist white nationalist to the most influential staff job in the White House.

That’s what Gov. Charlie Baker did on [November 16] when asked about the appointment of Steve Bannon as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief White House advisor. There’s “too much pre-judging going on,” Baker said, adding that folks just needed to wait and “see what happens here”…

Baker was the first Republican governor to say that he was offended by Donald Trump’s racist campaign rhetoric and would not support him for president. So why is he hedging on saying whether or not it is a bad idea to employ a white nationalist in the most powerful job in the White House? Easy — he’s thinking he will be punished if he speaks the truth.

During the same press conference where Baker urged folks not to judge Bannon, he noted that the most important thing for Massachusetts is to “have an open dialogue” with the Trump administration. He added that when it “comes to federal grants and federal funds for cities and towns here in the commonwealth,” he wants Massachusetts to be “treated fairly.”

Of course, that may not be the real reason Baker is holding his tongue about the deplorables who surround Trump. Baker is up for re-election in two years, and he knows damn well that if he condemns the official head of his party, he might find himself in a little bit of trouble with the Republican Governors Association, which provided, shall we say, the $upport he needed the last time around. (Yes, Baker has also received contributions from the occasional Democrat who thinks he’s one of the “good Republicans,” but that won’t be enough to finance a re-election campaign.)

Baker’s refusal to renounce the racists has drawn the ire of such Bay State Democrats as Attorney General Maura Healey, who is not planning to challenge him in 2018. Who will focus on the fraudulent nature of Baker’s moderate-Republican shtick in two years? One prominent Democratic activist wants outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry to challenge Charlie; it would certainly make for an interesting race, though one wonders if Kerry would be regarded by certain progressives as too “establishment” (by the way, will somebody please provide a coherent political definition of that word?) to warrant the gubernatorial nomination. (A former aide to Kerry is also apparently contemplating a run.)

Whichever Democrat winds up challenging Baker will presumably not hesitate to denounce the demagogues devoted to the Donald–and will not hesitate to point out that there is no such thing as a “moderate Republican” anymore, just members of the GOP who have to bow down to the most malevolent members of their party instead of standing up against what they know to be morally wrong. If Bay Staters–who rejected Trump resoundingly on November 8–accept that argument, Baker could be cooked.

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.