By Neil W. McCabe
Why wouldn’t Charles D. “Charlie” Baker run for governor again in 2012?
After all, an arsonist always returns to the site of his crime—if only to enjoy the flames lapping over what was once the Massachusetts Republican Party.
Baker was not the first Republican leader to damage
the state’s GOP in recent memory. New Hampshire resident W. Mitt Romney did quite a number on the party by what could only be described as “demolition-by-neglect.” In his four wasted years, the GOP lost two congressional seats and the right to call for a roll call vote in the Senate, when the lamented Charles E. Shannon Jr., flipped parties. Then, of course there was Baker’s mentor William F. Weld, a man whose promises to IPO the Massachusetts Turnpike and the Massachusetts Port Authority were soon forgotten, as he fought to give long-suffering legislators pay raises and championed reverse discrimination against his own supporters.
Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year when the Republican Party was competitive in Massachusetts. I cite four factors for its decline.
First, in his 1960s campaigns for governor, John A. Volpe put forward the idea: “Vote the man, not the party.” This self-serving construct allowed Volpe success without having to lift the rest of the party and its candidates.
Second, was Watergate and the Democratic triumphalism afterwards. The Bay State was the only state that did not vote for Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and in the three years that follows the GOP lost virtually all of its brand-loyalty and good will from voters.
Third, in 1978, the size of the Great and General Court was cut from 280 seats to 160, a move that not only disenfranchised the Republican pockets of support in the Berkshires, Cape Cod and the North and South Shore, but it knocked out the low rungs on the political ladder for future GOP leaders.
Finally, there is the fight to restore legal rights to the unborn. The GOP was always the party of birth control and abortion rights in Massachusetts. After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Democrats across the country purged pro-lifers from its rosters and rolls. In most cases, the Republicans completed the polar shift and became the pro-life party with Catholics finding common cause with fundamental Protestants in the GOP.
In Massachusetts, the Republican Party has remained a pro-abortion rights party, despite confusing signals from time-to-time—and this brings us back to Baker.
In the January 19, 2010 special election to replace Edward M. Kennedy Sr., in the Senate, Republican Scott P. Brown, running as a Tea Party darling beat Democrat Attorney General Martha Mary Coakley by a slim 52 percent to 48 percent.
With all the momentum of the Brown victory and a national Tea Party tidal wave, in the fall general election, Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick beat Baker 49 percent to 42 percent. What happened?
Well, there were a lot of mistakes, but the biggest one was Baker’s over-the-top celebration of abortion. Obviously, any hard core advocate of abortion was going to support Patrick, so when nothing to gain trying to out-abortion Patrick, Baker could have dialed it back. He did not.
But, what if Baker had made a deal with pro-life candidate Timothy H. Cahill? Cahill collected 184,395 votes and 8 percent of the electorate. In January, Brown beat Coakley by 55,000 votes. In November, Patrick beat Baker by 48,000 votes.
The result was another four years out of office for the Republicans, and more importantly, another four years of a Patrick administration of the commonwealth.
But, now Patrick is going away and there is no obvious Democrat to beat Baker this time. In the three years since his loss, Baker has idly watched the party continue to wither away. But, this does not bother him in the least. After all, all he asks is for you to vote for the man, not the party.