First, credit where credit is due: MA-6 candidate Richard Tisei has announced that he is boycotting this weekend’s GOP convention to express his disapproval of the right-wing platform that the party adopted earlier this year. Good for him.
Second, it’s impossible (at least to me) not to see Tisei’s move as putting a lot of pressure on Charlie Baker, the GOP’s presumptive nominee for Governor. If you think about it, Tisei and Baker are in very similar positions. They are pretty much the only brightish spots in an otherwise pretty grim-looking 2014 for MA Republicans. Both are well-known “moderate” Republicans who have already run statewide (on the same ticket, in fact). Both support abortion rights and marriage equality. Both are facing uphill but probably winnable races this fall. And both need the support of a lot of unenrolled voters and probably a few Democrats to win.
Tisei, who of course is gay and married, has decided to put his money where his mouth is by boycotting the convention this weekend. One has to imagine that this move will piss off a lot of MA’s small but merry band of conservatives, since they’ll see it as a slap in their faces. Which, frankly, is exactly what it is. Over at RMG, the anti-Tisei backlash has already begun. Tisei, who no doubt knew this would happen, must have concluded that the backlash from the right-wingers was worth it to him, both politically (he probably figures he’ll gain at least as many votes as he loses with this move), and personally.
On paper, at least, Tisei’s views are barely distinguishable from Baker’s. Yet just a couple of days ago, we read in the Globe about how Baker has worked hard to reach out to his party’s right wing, and how the right wing (at least to the extent that our friend Rob Eno at RMG represents that wing) is feeling the reciprocal love: “‘Because [Baker] has worked the grass roots and been in the trenches helping Republican conservatives, the grass roots have come to love him.’” The Globe tried to ask Baker about Tisei’s move, but “Baker’s spokesman declined to make Baker available or to discuss why he steered clear of the platform debate.” Profile in courage alert.
Also, as you may recall, Baker has a lousy track record of standing up to the extreme elements of his party. In 2010, he famously showed up at a Bill Hudak fundraiser (remember that guy?), and campaigned with Jeff Perry even as Perry’s less-than-awesome record as a cop was blowing up Perry’s own candidacy and threatening to derail every GOPer around him.
So what is a centrist Massachusetts voter, open to a Baker candidacy but uncomfortable with what the MA Republican party (as reflected in its platform) actually stands for, to think, if Baker shows up at the convention this weekend and rallies the assembled troops? How much ammunition does Baker really want to hand over to Democrats who – obviously – are going to make every effort to link Baker to the views of the party under whose banner he chooses to run? Last time around, Baker cost himself votes by refusing to disavow guys like Hudak and Perry. Will he make the same mistake again?
Of course, there is one noteworthy difference between Tisei and Baker: Baker needs 15% of the delegates voting at the convention to get on the ballot, while Tisei, who is running for federal office, does not. But come on – Baker could be a million miles away from the convention and still make the ballot, still win the endorsement, and maybe even still keep Mark Fisher off the ballot. The entire party establishment is behind Baker, and he can send Karyn Polito to Worcester to make sure everything stays on track. And even if Baker’s absence from the convention allowed Fisher to get 15% and create a primary, that would probably actually benefit Baker in the general election, since it would help Baker distinguish himself from Fisher’s extreme views throughout the primary cycle.
So how’s about it, Charlie? Are you really going to let your former running mate show you up? Do you really want it said that Tisei had the courage of his convictions, but you didn’t? Do you stand for the party of Bill Weld, or Bill Hudak?