Half-Baked Baker

Oh, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie....

Scot Lehigh followed up with Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker the other day about his appearance at a Bill Hudak event, figuring that he's now had enough time, since I wrote about it, and since Scot first asked him about it, to have forged a serious response.

I can't say that his response strikes me as very serious:

“I don’t actually make my calendar,’’ he said. “Other people make my schedule for me.’’... “I don’t know where I’m going to be or who I’m going to be with between now and the end of the race,’’ he said. “I don’t get to control all that stuff, Scot. And you know that.’’

Lehigh tried asking if Baker "saw any problem with attending an event for a candidate who had likened Obama to a mass murdering terrorist." Baker, oddly slipping into the imperial first-person plural, told Lehigh that "we agree a lot of that stuff is offensive and inappropriate and not to be tolerated."

I've got two issues here. First, I'm not sure Baker quite understands what office he's running for. It reminds me a little of Deval Patrick's early days in office -- particularly the time when he genuinely seemed not to grasp the impropriety of a Governor calling a Citigroup official on behalf of the company whose board he formerly served on.

You're running for the top public office in the Commonwealth, Charlie -- you're supposed to be the guy who decides things, not the guy who doesn't even control whose events you attend. You think it doesn't matter whose events, or even what locations, a governor appears at? And you really think those decisions aren't ultimately the responsibility of the governor? Please.

It really shouldn't be so difficult. Here's what you say: "When I made that appearance, I and my staff were unaware of Hudak's intolerable activities, and now that we are I will speak with Hudak and, if I am unsatisfied with his explanations, I will instruct my staff not to schedule me at any events that might give the appearance that I am promoting or endorsing his candidacy."

Baker thus far is demonstrating a troubling pattern when confronted on things by the media. Most notable have been his responses when asked asked about his involvement in the Big Dig financing -- it's not just his answers, but his attitude, which led Brian McGrory to write that Baker seems "prone to petulance when things go a little astray." There's also been his refusal to clarify his position on climate change (until pressed directly at Monday's debate), among other things, and now this unnecessary avoidance of the Hudak question.

At some point in the upcoming actual heated days of this campaign, I guarantee there will be other issues, with more than one or two pesky journalists poking for answers. How Baker handles it could be critical. And, it should be. It's an important test for someone who will have to handle a lot of heat -- and a lot of staff -- if he wins the job he's seeking. Patrick was, I think, rightly judged on his mishandling of the Ben LaGuer parole-letter issue during the 2006 campaign, and in retrospect that might be viewed as a sign of some of the administration's troubles to come in its early days.

The second issue I have is that I, and others, are monitoring Baker for signs of the craven capitulation that we've seen from allegedly moderate "Yankee Republican" stars who have come before -- and who Baker has learned closely from.

Mitt Romney is obviously the poster boy for that particular disease. But let's not forget that Bill Weld, once the champion of social tolerance and "open-tent" Republicanism, sold out his long-time friends and allies in the gay community as soon as he ran into trouble in his campaign for New York governor.

Baker has not made quite as despicable a move as that -- but hey, it's early. His convention-pressured coming-out against transgender rights -- and his use of the term "bathroom bill" to describe it -- was pretty gross. The pandering to the warming-deniers has been borderline, at best.

This pussyfooting around the Hudak thing suggests a pretty simple calculation. Hudak is likely to be the nominee in the 6th district, against John Tierney; Republicans with similarly or nearly as rabid views will be on the ballot elsewhere in the state. Baker needs to win the votes of all of their supporters, and if he starts disavowing them he's likely to lose some.

Of course, he also needs to win votes from the broader swath of moderate voters, who don't cotton to crazy. (So does Hudak, which is why you probably won't see him distributing signs with Tierney as Chairman Mao.)

But if Baker comes to need the right more than he needs the middle -- now or in the future -- I for one would like to know that he'll stand by his claim to moderation. He's not giving me much confidence so far.

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