You’ve got to hand it to Charlie Baker: His re-election feat last week may not have been the biggest win for a Republican governor in Massachusetts history - that distinction goes to Bill Weld, who, according to the State House News Service, trounced his Democratic challenger, Mark Roosevelt, by 43 points in 1994 - but, this one was special nonetheless.
Charlie Baker— unlike Weld in the Poppy Bush era— now belongs to a party that is led by one Donald J. Trump, a wretched excuse for a person (never mind for a president) whom even Baker summed up as “Outrageous. Disgraceful. Divider.” in the final debate before election day.
Baker’s denunciation helped solidify his path to a 34-point victory in a state where a significant majority of residents — save for dead-enders like vanquished US Senate candidate Geoff Diehl, whom Baker should have cut loose — loathe this president. Massachusetts voters had a chance last week to take a hardline approach and cleanse the state of even a hint of rouge-coloring in our state government, that is, to elect someone who would offer more than eye-rolls and reporter-prompted rebukes.
Instead, they stuck with Baker, whose brand of Republicanism is a throwback to a now bygone day when “moderates” could claim at least a narrow corner of the GOP roost.
Why the voters did it is complex, and no doubt it has something to do with the good qualities of a good man, Charlie Baker. But there’s more.
There was a fair bit of nostalgia firing in the fingers of otherwise loyal Dems who filled in ovals for Baker-Polito on Neponset Ave and on Washington Street and at the firefighters’ hall last Tuesday. It belongs to people who crave the equilibrium that not long ago brought a certain sense of order to voters, who have for four decades now largely settled on a more “fiscally responsible” ying to the “tax and spend” yang on Beacon Hill.
That sense of balance is a phantom feeling now; it was rendered inoperative two years ago in a horrific November train-wreck that still smolders and careens and menaces in our memories. Still, deep down in voters’ souls, that craving for equilibrium persists: One for the moderate, do-no-harm Republican. One, two, three for the liberals. Let’s prop up a “good” Republican, show our bipartisan political bona fides, and offer a lesson in bipartisanship to a fractured republic.
Over the last two years, that comfort-food combo has been yanked from the national menu by the ravings of an imbecilic president and his impotent Congressional cohort. Despite their alleged fealty to a common party, they are as hapless as any rump squad that ever rode a wing or rail or wagon wheel into the Potomac swamplands.
But here in Massachusetts, the menu remains unchanged. Last week, it wasn’t just our cousins in the burbs who reflexively voted for an e pluribus unum equilibrium. Boston voted Gonzalez 50 and Baker 49, a virtual draw in a city where US Sen. Elizabeth Warren posted a cool 60-point spread. It was one for Charlie. One-two-three for the Dems - for Liz Warren, for Ayanna Pressley, and for rejecting the bigots who would strip away rights from our LGBTQ neighbors.
Even in places where Baker lost — Mattapan and large parts of Dorchester— there were few, if any, wipeouts. He won 14 out of 55 Dorchester precincts and all of Ward 16, although Team Baker may want to check in over at 17-11, the old Woodrow Wilson School polling place, where the Dem ticket notched a rare 80-20 margin.
The governor deserves credit for this, of course. But the kudos come with caveats. The state election is over, and the president is still a danger. In the days since the Democrats won back the House, his behavior has become —if possible—even more erratic. Jay Gonzalez wasn’t wrong: Governing in this crisis environment demands more than a siloed, let’s stay-focused-on-the-home-fires approach. The crisis that Baker’s party has helped to create looms daily and gives way to new dangers nightly.
The balance whereby Massachusetts voters sent Baker back to the Corner Office in the State House while dispatching Warren and Pressley to DC— is representative of an American ideal, one borne of bloody conflicts and unresolved reconstruction. There is dignity in this enduring commitment, but only if it’s rewarded by courageous leadership. In this case, the voters’ fealty merits more than just a conventional approach in return.
The abiding virtue – from the many, one country - helped Charlie Baker surge to victory last Tuesday. But to move forward, the republic will have to be reanimated in a new body politic, the one that will come after this dreadful time in the wilderness.
- Bill Forry