Gov. Charlie Baker’s pronouncement that he would not vote for the nominee of his own party shouldn’t come as a surprise given his repeated criticisms of Donald Trump. It was, in his own words, “odd” and “disappointing.”
It certainly didn’t sit well with Heather Reyes, an independent who voted for Baker in 2014 and who now supports Donald Trump. Reyes said she wouldn’t be voting for Baker again because of his criticisms of Trump.
“I’m a grandmother. I’m not a racist, and I just resent the way people like Charlie Baker try to denigrate me,” she said. “I believe the only reason someone like Charlie Baker would be against Trump is because he’s worried about how he looks to his voters. … I think he’s worried about his polling numbers.”
Her point is one that several experts echoed: Baker’s refusal to support Trump is likely good politics for the Republican governor’s leadership of blue Massachusetts.
Scott Brown, the former U.S. Senator who endorsed Trump several months ago, said as much when he was asked about Baker’s criticisms of Trump in an interview with Boston Herald Radio on Wednesday.
“Charlie’s going to do what he’s going to do for Massachusetts,” Brown said. “He’s going to look out for Charlie Baker and he’s going to look out for the Commonwealth, and I have no problems with that.”
While Trump did dominate the Republican primary in Massachusetts in March, he is disliked among general voters here on a historically unprecedented level, according to an analysis from pollsters at MassINC.
That’s particularly true among moderates and liberals. Nothing brings those groups together like dislike for Trump, experts said.
“In a state like Massachusetts, where Democrats and independents really dominate, it’s an easy way for Baker to shore up support amongst those moderates that he needs to keep winning,” said Erin O’Brien, chairwoman of the political science department at UMass Boston. “And Republicans in Massachusetts have nowhere else to go.”
As a Republican in Democrat-heavy Massachusetts, Baker relied on the support of a coalition of independents and Democrats to win his election in 2014. He beat his competitor Martha Coakley among independents by 32 percentage points, according to exit polls.
He’ll need to keep that coalition of independents and moderates on his side should he run for reelection in 2018, and using Trump as a foil could help him.
“To the extent that Baker distanced himself from [Trump] may hurt him a little bit on the margins within his own party,” said Peter Ubertaccio, political science professor at Stonehill College. “But it probably helps Baker among the more independently-minded and Democrats that he needs in order to win a general election.”
Maurice Cunningham, a professor of political science at UMass Boston, agreed.
“I think it probably does [help Baker], because Trump is gonna get crushed in the state,” he said. “It’s a calculation, and I think Baker chose it wisely.”
If Trump-supporting Republicans do decide not to support Baker, there just aren’t any other Republican politicians to take his place that could win in a general election.
“Trump voters in Massachusetts may very well like a more bombastic sort of person [like] Donald Trump,” O’Brien said. “But Charlie Baker is the best they can hope for.”