Charlie Baker

Charlie Baker dismisses notion that he was ‘shaken’ by Trump-endorsed primary challenger

"No, not at all."

Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that he will not run for re-election. Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

Following Gov. Charlie Baker’s bombshell announcement Wednesday that he wouldn’t run for re-election next year, leaders of the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican parties converged on a rare agreement.

The reason, they said in separate statements, that the moderate Republican decided against running for a third term was former president Donald Trump’s influence over the Republican Party.

Baker, who is more popular among Democrats and independent than he is with Republicans, faced a potentially difficult primary against a more radical, Trump-backed GOP primary challenger. And the logic goes that he would rather walk away than be embarrassed by a primary defeat.

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MassDems Chair Gus Bickford said Baker was effectively “pushed out of office by his own party. Meanwhile, MassGOP Chair Jim Lyons — a conservative Trump supporter who has frequently clashed with Baker — said it was “clear” that the governor was “shaken” by Trump’s endorsement of former state representative Geoff Diehl.

Trump himself even weighed in Wednesday afternoon, asserting that Baker’s decision was because he didn’t get the former president’s endorsement and was thus “incapable of getting the Republican nomination.”

Baker says that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I’ve never entered a political race with the fundamental question being about whether I could win or I could lose,” Baker, who lost his first gubernatorial bid in 2010, said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Every race I’ve ever entered, I entered because I believed I would be the best person to do the job and had the best plan on how to get it done,” he said. “No, not shaken.”

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito repeatedly said Wednesday that the main reason for their decision was that a campaign would be a “distraction” from the important work over the next year on the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. They also said they wanted to be able to spend more time with family, especially after the hardship of the pandemic.

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But did a potentially contentious primary against a Trump-endorsed candidate play any factor? Baker insisted it did not.

“No, not at all,” he said, as a reporter continued to ask. “Nope, not at all. Which part of no… no, not at all.”

Baker also declined to say whether he would support Diehl, the sole Republican currently in the race (in 2018, Baker was reluctant to say if he’d vote for Diehl, who was then running for Senate, though he later said he would).

“The focus for us is going to be on the work,” Baker said Wednesday.

“That is one of the main reasons — the main reason — we’re choosing to make the decision we made,” he added.

During the press conference, Baker laughed when asked if he would rule out a future run for president, before confirming that he would.

“Um, yeah,” he said.

Baker also shot down the notion that the increasingly partisan tenor of politics was a reason he and Polito decide against running for re-election.

“I actually think our brand of politics and our approach to politics and both the way we operate and how we work with people and how we choose to focus on issues over personalities and motive stand apart from a lot of the bipartisan noise that’s created in politics generally these days, and amplified by social media platforms and all sorts of other people who are jockeying for attention,” Baker said.

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“I would argue that the way we’ve operated has a lot to do with why the voters of Massachusetts think we’ve done a really good job for seven years,” he added.

Even though Massachusetts has roughly three times as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans, the state has elected just one Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, in the last 30 years.

That said, political analysts generally agree that Baker’s exit leaves the door wide open for a Democrat to retake the corner office, especially given Trump’s unpopularity in the state and the lack of any well-known moderate GOP heir.

Three Democratic candidates have already entered the 2022 race, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey may soon follow.

Following the announcement that Baker wouldn’t run again, the Cook Political Report changed its rating of the Massachusetts gubernatorial race from “solid Republican” to “lean Democrat.”

“Massachusetts Democrats have been and continue to be ready to take back the corner office in 2022,” Bickford said Wednesday, asserting the “takeover of the MassGOP by the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party is complete

Lyons doesn’t necessarily disagree; he said Wednesday that the party “remains committed” to Trump’s agenda. Diehl, for his part, also continued to tout Trump’s endorsement.

Baker, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s divisive politics, expressed a belief Wednesday that the “vast majority” of Massachusetts voters share his more moderate views.

“The people in Massachusetts will have a lot to say about the kind of political discourse and the kind of political behavior that they will choose to support here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said Wednesday.

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