Understanding Charlie Baker’s Endorsement of Chris Christie

It's the safest play in the book for him.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Photo by Garrett Quinn

Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Photo by Garrett Quinn

At first glance, it seems a bit crazy that the most popular governor in America would inject himself into the contentious arena that is the 2016 presidential election, but late Thursday night that’s exactly what Gov. Charlie Baker did, by endorsing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Why would he leap into the fray? Baker, a Republican, doesn’t have much to gain by backing Christie (or anyone, really), but he doesn’t have much to lose, either.

Christie will probably crash out of the 2016 primary in the very near future, unless, by some miracle, he does very well in New Hampshire and trudges on for a few more states before bowing out. There’s only so much money to go around to prop up his fading presidential prospects. Baker could have endorsed the new “establishment” frontrunner, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, but according to the Globe, the two have never talked.

By backing Christie, however, Baker can and will say he backed the most moderate Republican in the race—and the candidate who happens to most in line with his problem-solving Mr. Fix-It approach to government. It doesn’t hurt that Christie is also similar to Baker in that he’s a Republican governor in a deep blue state. For Baker, Christie’s brand of politics just is better than pretty much anyone else in the field of candidates. “The litmus test for us is: can you demonstrate an ability to work with people you disagree with to get stuff done?” said Baker.

Of course, there will be questions about an overlap of staffers, as well as Christie buying his support through the Republican Governor’s Association $11 million backing of his 2014 campaign, but voters have shown repeatedly that they don’t really care about campaign finance.

This endorsement also bolsters Baker’s position as an anti–Donald Trump Republican. Baker has made multiple public comments that make it clear he is no fan of the Republican frontrunner’s bombast. Baker was direct in his criticism of Trump at a Friday press conference at the State House. “I think there’s a certain temperament and a certain collaborative nature that’s fundamental to somebody’s ability to succeed in government, and I question whether he has the temperament and the sense of purpose that’s associated with delivering on that,” said Baker.

When asked by Boston magazine if he would vote for Trump as the Republican nominee, Baker dodged the question by saying there’s a long time to go before November.

In Baker’s first year in office, he’s made it evident to anyone paying attention that he’s more interested in making the trains run on time than he is in engaging in partisan warfare. You don’t generate astronomically high approval ratings by being a partisan sabre rattler. Baker has tried his best to stay above the fray of the national slapfights of the day and instead focus on the “blocking and tackling” of Massachusetts government. The possibility of Republicans nominated Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as the party’s standard bearer was just too much for him to stand.

“I don’t ever want to be in a position where people say you didn’t have a position on something of significance and importance,” Baker said on Friday.