Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s absence was the elephant in the room at the Republican National Convention Fundraiser Tuesday night.
Baker, who is up for re-election this year, told Politico he “didn’t know” about the event or the fact that Vice President Mike Pence would be in town. According his schedule for Tuesday evening, Baker attended a reception nearly 60 miles away in New Bedford.
Baker told press he had prior commitments. Similarly, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito also said she could not attend due to previous engagements. And while Baker could have handled the situation with better grace and sensitivity to avoid receiving negative press — for example, avoiding the “I didn’t know” excuse — the governor of Massachusetts still has no obligation to attend the fundraiser. It is more productive of him to attend a meeting that is meaningful to his constituents and be present at something that affects the people he serves.
There was collective surprise from the public that Baker, a Republican governor known for his moderate views, would not attend an event with Pence. In a liberal state like Massachusetts, they expected Baker to talk to Pence and potentially discuss issues they disagree upon, like LGBT and women’s rights. After all, Pence is one of the people closest to Trump, and Baker could theoretically plant seeds for policy changes.
However, this argument falls flat. As VP, Pence doesn’t have much real power, let alone that of the policy-making sort. Pence is a figurehead for the current administration, not someone who enacts change and presses for legislation.
Even more, the event does not exist to encourage discussion between opposing viewpoints. The RNC fundraising event resembles more of a socialite gala, where couples pay $35,000 to sit at a table and get their picture taken with Pence. People are certainly not attending the event to engage in political dialogue. They are there to support the Republican Party and maybe even socialize with friends and colleagues.
In multiple statements to the press, Baker suggested he wasn’t trying to send any sort of political message by not attending the fundraising event. However, he handled his absence and reasons for it in a characteristically uncouth fashion, lacking manners and sensitivity. If Baker had been more clear about his intentions, he wouldn’t be receiving this much attention by choosing to simply not attend an event like a fundraiser. He looked foolish by saying he didn’t know about it and should have been more forthcoming about his reasons for not attending.
As governor, Baker is supposed to serve and support the people who voted him in. Baker is likely seeking to secure votes right now, and is meeting with people across Massachusetts to better understand his constituents’ needs and goals. By choosing not to attend an event for the sake of his party’s name, he can fight Trump’s policies more tactically by sticking to politics in Massachusetts, not in the presidential administration.