Lee Harrison: The Devil and Charlie Baker

WILLIAMSTOWN— A lot of people admire our Republican governor, the unremarkable Charlie Baker. But if, as they say, the Devil's greatest trick was to convince people he doesn't exist, then maybe Charlie Baker's greatest trick is convincing a lot of Massachusetts voters he's not really a Republican.

Being a Republican in Massachusetts today means not telling voters that the massive tax cut your party just passed is a colossal shift of wealth to corporations and the richest Americans, or that it's also carefully designed to take money from Blue States on the coasts and give it to Red States in the middle. It also means not telling them that your party will be coming for their Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to pay for it.

So, it's no surprise that Charlie's not bragging about being a Republican. But the fact that he's not standing up for his constituents by attacking the radical Republican agenda can only mean that he supports it, his few mumbled concerns about the tax bill notwithstanding.

His desire to use the Republican National Committee to raise a mega war chest for his re-election probably has a lot to do with it, too. In short, Charlie is relying on the RNC to evade Mass. campaign finance laws.

Because state law limits what billionaire Republican donors around the country can contribute to his campaign, Charlie decided to play by federal election rules, which allow the super-rich to contribute much, much more. So, Charlie started a "joint fundraising committee" between the Massachusetts Republican Party and the Republican National Committee. Under state rules, an individual can only give $6,000 to help Baker ($1,000 to Baker and $5,000 to the MassGOP, which Baker controls), but under federal rules one person can write a $43,400 check to the Republicans' "Massachusetts Victory Committee."

But there's a hitch: Charlie has to give 40 percent of everything he raises to the Republican National Committee, which is firmly controlled by Trump. And that's how Charlie raised at least $2 million that has helped to: a) fund Roy Moore, b) pay Trump's soaring legal bills, c) push the Republican tax scam, and d) pursue voter suppression strategies.

So yeah, Charlie Baker knows what he's doing, and what he's doing is being a typical Republican, willing to accept any despicable result to get the money he needs to stay in office. He also pushes charter schools, as Trump's education chief Betsy DeVos does, and opposes legalizing marijuana, as Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions does. As Nixon's Attorney General John Mitchell famously said: "Watch what we do, not what we say."

But Charlie doesn't say much about the damage Trump & Co. are doing to Massachusetts and the nation. Heck, even "Morning Joe" Scarborough, one of New Gingrich's "Contract for America" boys, has left the Republican Party. "You have to ask yourself, what exactly is the Republican Party willing to do?" said Scarborough. "How far are they willing to go? How much of this country and our values are they willing to sell out?"

Early on, there was some hope that the alliance between Trump and Republicans around the country would be temporary, "that establishment Republicans would use Trump to get what they wanted, then turn on him. But it's now clear that won't happen," says the New York Times' Paul Krugman. "Trump has exceeded everyone's worst expectations, yet Republicans, far from cutting him loose, are tying themselves even more closely to his fate." The reason is obvious, says Krugman. "They knowingly made a deal with the Devil, and can't back out."

Indeed, every Republican who has not spoken out forcefully against the crimes and outrages committed by the Trump administration is complicit in them, including Gov. Baker. And if Trump goes down, either for "high crimes and misdemeanors" or because of mental incapacity, the whole Republican establishment will go down with him. So while Baker chugs along smiling from crisis to crisis, with no vision for our state, he remains trapped by his deal with the Devil.

Remember Stephen Vincent Benet's classic "The Devil and Daniel Webster?" Here's the final passage: "But they say that whenever the Devil comes near Marshfield [N.H.], even now, he gives it a wide berth. And he hasn't been seen in the state of New Hampshire from that day to this. I'm not talking about Massachusetts or Vermont." Just sayin'.

Lee Harrison is a member of the Democratic State Committee and former chair, Berkshire Democratic Brigades.


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