The most popular governor in America has no real political future.
Charlie Baker, the Massachusetts Republican, tops the list of America's most-beloved governors (again) in a new Morning Consult poll released this week. That's an extraordinary achievement: Massachusetts is among the bluest of blue states — President Biden won nearly two thirds of its votes in 2020 — but Baker has been remarkably popular for much of his tenure.
That ought to mean something for the rest of his career. For more than 30 years — between 1976 and 2004 — America elected a string of governors to the White House. (George H.W. Bush was the lone exception.) The nation's statehouses have been more reliable launching pads for the presidency than the U.S. Senate. So a Republican governor with such tremendous cross-party appeal should naturally be thinking about a run for the Oval Office, right?
Maybe not. Baker has never been comfortable in the MAGAfied version of the GOP: He left his presidential ballots blank in 2016 and 2020 rather than vote for Donald Trump, and he famously criticized Trump's performance during the pandemic. Trump might not be as much of a kingmaker within the Republican Party as he's often depicted, but his power is real and destructive. He can break conservative careers. So while Baker could probably win another re-election in Massachusetts — though he's not going to try — he probably wouldn't get far trying to win a Republican primary outside the state.
The Morning Consult list is interesting. Not a single Democrat ranks among the most popular governors in the nation. (Kentucky's Andy Beshear comes in at No. 12.) But the top 10 is dotted with Republicans who chafed at the party's turn to Trump: Phil Scott of Vermont, Larry Hogan of Maryland, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, and Spencer Cox of Utah have all tangled with the former president and his supporters. Hogan might try a run for the GOP nomination in 2024. He'll almost certainly lose.
That's not great for democracy. For most of their history, political parties have tried to win elections by broadening their appeal. Makes sense, right? Now, popular candidates within the Republican Party have become suspect, relegated by Trump and the party's most devoted activists to "RINO" territory in favor of a leader who twice lost the national popular vote. That's either a sign the GOP is about to enter a long period of losing elections — or it means the party no longer thinks it has to win votes in order to win power.