Most of the time, Gov. Charlie Baker seems content to keep his political influence confined to Massachusetts. But on Friday, news came out that he was publicly backing Maine senator and fellow Republican Susan Collins for reelection. Hours later, the world learned of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now, what Collins does or does not do during the process to confirm a new justice could matter to Baker. Reporter Adam Reilly discussed Baker's decision to back Collins with GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: Following Ginsburg's death, Gov. Baker said that he thinks whoever wins the November election should pick the justice who fills her seat. Collins has said the same, but there's no guarantee of how she would actually vote. The timing of all this — the endorsement, the news of Justice Ginsburg's death — seems bad for Baker. Could this come back to haunt him?
Adam Reilly: There is a scenario I can imagine in which it could come back to haunt him, and it would go something like this: Susan Collins wins reelection, Republicans keep the Senate, Baker runs for governor again in 2022 — which we don't know he's going to do — and then the Democrats pick a candidate who actually makes the race competitive, which is not something that happened last time. If all those things happened, I could definitely see this coming back to haunt Baker, especially if Donald Trump is reelected as president. In that case, it could be devastating, I think. But that is a ton of contingency. There's no guarantee that any of that stuff is going to happen.
Rath: Let's consider Collins' current political situation. How could a Baker endorsement help her?
Reilly: Well, she is in trouble. A top aide to another Maine Republican, former senator Olympia Snowe, just came out and wrote a high profile op-ed saying, I can no longer support Susan Collins, she's basically put no daylight between herself and President Trump, she's not an independent voice, and she's the wrong choice for Maine. That alone is bad enough.
But Collins, throughout Trump's term in office, has gained a reputation for saying that she's troubled by things the president does, that she's agonized about choices she has to make involving the president, and then doing things that the president's critics find completely unsatisfying. For example, think back to impeachment. You probably remember Collins saying that she was not going to back impeachment in the Senate because she thought the president had learned a pretty big lesson by being impeached.
Now she has this very tough challenge from a woman, Sara Gideon, the Speaker of Maine's House of Representatives. There's a new poll from Suffolk University and the Boston Globe that has Gideon leading Collins 46 to 41. Most of that polling was done before Ginsburg died, for what that's worth. Gideon is raising massive amounts of money, so Collins may be out of the Senate unless things break her way in the final weeks. And that's why Baker's endorsement is a help to her.
Rath: Gov. Baker would have to understand that even without the Supreme Court being involved in this, that there is a certain amount of political risk here. So what would be the benefit to Gov. Baker?
Reilly: This is a case where none of us, including myself, should overthink this. The answer is, Charlie Baker is a Republican. Yes, his brand of Republicanism — sort of classic New England Republican, moderate on social issues, somewhat conservative on economic issues — is completely out of step with where the party is nationally at this point in time. But that is his party, even if Democrats in our state seem to like him more than Republicans in our state do.
And because it's his party, it is in Baker's interests to take steps to make the party more likely to align with his values moving forward, not less. Collins, whatever you make of what she has or hasn't done in recent years, had for a long time a reputation as an independent voice in the Senate, a Republican who was not a doctrinaire conservative. Baker is cut from that same cloth, even though he seems to be doing a better job pleasing his constituents right now. A much better job, I should say, than Collins has.