BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker has described himself as a big fan of former Gov. William Weld, while making no secret that he isn’t much of a fan of President Donald Trump.
So Weld’s announcement that he’s officially exploring a run against Trump in the Republican primaries next year could potentially leave Massachusetts’ current GOP governor in a bind.
“He’s a mentor of mine and I admire the work he did here as governor,” Baker said this past week when asked about Weld’s looming candidacy.
Yet Baker quickly declared that it was far too early to get behind any presidential contender, even if the 2020 race appears to be revving up more quickly than usual as evidenced by a wave of already-announced Democratic hopefuls.
A young Baker cut his teeth in government working for the Weld administration from 1991 to 1997, eventually serving in the cabinet-level post of secretary of health and human services. He was later named secretary of administration and finance — the state’s top budget official — by Weld’s successor, Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci.
Baker and Weld share similar philosophies toward governing. Both are fiscal conservatives but hold liberal positions on social issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage.
As a candidate in 2014, Baker said in an interview with WGBH-FM that he considered himself “to be sort of a Bill Weld Republican,” adding he was “pretty much cut from (Weld’s) cloth.”
That sentiment, along with Baker’s frequent criticism of the current White House occupant — he’s said Trump lacks the proper temperament for the job — raises an obvious question: Might Baker be one of Weld’s first prominent backers should his former boss follow through on a Trump challenge?
No endorsement appears likely in the near future, if ever.
Baker could be hedging his bets to see how the presidential campaign shapes up, and whether other Republicans who are better known than Weld nationally — former Ohio Gov. John Kasich for example — enter the fray. Three years ago, Baker endorsed then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential bid, only to see Christie drop out after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Baker might also be wary of further alienating the White House for fear it could hurt Massachusetts. Or he may wish to avoid becoming something of an outcast among Republicans who, according to recent national polls, still support Trump by wide margins.
After Weld pronounced Trump “too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office,” Jim Lyons, a conservative recently elected chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, delivered a blistering rebuke of the state’s former governor.
Lyons said Weld deserved no consideration from the GOP after endorsing Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 election and leaving the party altogether in 2016 to run for vice president on the Libertarian ticket.
“After abandoning Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, Weld demands that faithful Republicans consider him as their standard bearer,” said Lyons, in a statement issued by the party. “Even Benedict Arnold switched allegiances less often!”
Saying he was focused on his “day job,” Baker declined to take sides when asked about Lyons’ criticism of Weld.
“If other people want to engage in the big issues around the presidential election in 2020 they can do that, but that’s not going to be what I spend my time and energy on,” said Baker.
For his part, Weld dismissed Lyons’ remarks and similar barbs from New Hampshire’s GOP chair as an effort by the Trump campaign to silence any interparty challenge that might weaken the incumbent’s re-election prospects.
“I’m not going to convince the Republican state chair because they’re all under pressure and orders from Washington, make sure this guy gets no purchase, make sure we don’t really have a primary … sail through this without anyone having to think or analyze issues,” Weld told ABC’s “This Week” program.
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