Why Charlie Lost

Here, finally, is my take on the Charlie Baker campaign. You can take all the particular criticisms of the campaign strategy; all the dissections of Baker's persona; all the praise of Deval Patrick's get-out-the-vote operation... there's still an overarching reason that Baker lost badly in a race where he should have won easily.

And that reason is: he ran as a Republican.

I don't mean he ran on the GOP ballot line. I mean, he campaigned as a through-and-through, party-loyal, conservative Republican.

You can't win that way state-wide in Massachusetts. You have to convince people to elect you despite your party affiliation. It's why we have phrases like "Weld Republican" and "Scott Brown Republican" -- because those successful candidates convinced us that they were not like those other Republicans. You know, the ones you see on TV, that 90 percent of Massachusetts voters dislike.

That was especially true this year, despite all the anti-Democrat, anti-Obama, anti-incumbent sentiment. To most Bay Staters (in fact, most New Englanders), "Republicans" are anti-intellectual, vitriolic, reactionary, "Party of No," Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Tea Party, Southern ideologues. "FOX Republicans," if you will.

Baker came with the label "Weld Republican," but whatever that may have meant in 1990, for Baker it apparently means holding "liberal" views on abortion and gay rights. Well, in 2010 Massachusetts those are baseline positions for entry. All he did was take those issues off the table for the campaign.

Baker needed to present himself as some kind of "third way" Republican. It doesn't take much. Brown repeatedly emphasized that he would be an "independent vote" in Washington, and even ran an ad comparing himself with noted Democrat John F. Kennedy. Mitt Romney is something of a special case; he's a "Chameleon Republican" who will be whatever the voter wants him to be at the moment. In his 2002 iteration, that was a jovial, non-ideological fix-it man.

But I can't think of anything Baker did to define himself as a third-way Republican. He could have done it with rhetoric, or by approving of selective "Democratic" ideas, but he did neither. I might have suggested, for example, that he come out with praise for the state's 2008 energy and environment legislation, and talked about how excited he would be as governor to continue implementing and expanding that effort. Or, when urban violence became a campaign issue, he could have praised CORI reform and argued that much more was needed to transition criminals and at-risk people into positive community roles.

There are plenty of other possible examples; Baker would have seemed like a completely different candidate if he had picked a couple of issues like that to show that he's not a simple, knee-jerk partisan.

Instead, Baker's entire campaign strategy was an appeal to the legendary angry white suburban males who were supposedly the key to the election.

That strategy, I would argue, ensured the opposition of everyone other than those angry white suburban males -- including plenty who were comfortable voting for Brown, and particularly including women.

It's beyond me that people are going around now saying that Baker should have addressed his "gender gap" by being more charming and sweet and showing his family more. I mean, come on, I believe in the importance of the trivial surface crap in politics, but do we really think women are that stupid?

Unenrolled women -- who are THE swing voters in Massachusetts politics -- don't like FOX Republicans. They really don't like FOX Republicans. Actually, they hate FOX Republicans. And not just (as one woman I know theorizes) because all the FOX Republicans remind them of their first husband, the one who left you for his secretary after you worked to put him through business school, and who fought every penny of alimony and child support.

That may be part of it. But I'm pretty sure that mostly women around here don't like FOX Republicans because they think the national Republican policy agenda, and philosophical approach to government, is bad for women, families, and communities.

Baker and his campaign constantly, endlessly, ham-handedly, reinforced his image as a FOX Republican, not a third-way Republican. Consider:

--adopted a blankly angry "Had Enough" theme;

--hedged on belief in human-caused climate change;

--opposed Cape Wind, synonymous in people's minds with clean energy;

--railed against taxes;

--blithely vowed to eliminate 5000 state employee jobs;

--while saying question 3 "goes too far," egged people on by saying he understood why people would vote for it;

--claimed that the solution to state revenue woes is tax cuts (in almost the same language that John Boehner was using);

--demonized labor unions;

--demanded harsh enforcement and increased deportations of undocumented immigrants;

--blamed undocumented immigrants by suggesting increasing deportations as a solution to gun violence;

--called for increasing prosecutions while deriding the idea of paying for criminals' defense;

--went on right-wing talk radio almost daily, sucking up to them and their audience while mostly avoiding other media;

--refused to denounce or distance himself from "Birther Bill" Hudak, congressional candidate in his own district, even saying he would "support the ticket" if Hudak won the primary, implying that party loyalty demanded he vote for any crazy Republican;

--refused to denounce or distance himself from Jeff Perry even after a strip-search victim spoke out, choosing to duck in and out of a joint event in a way that made it look like he was acknowledging Perry's loathsomeness but unwilling to ditch a fellow Republican;

--held a big press conference to show him welcoming the slimy Paul Loscocco back into the Republican fold.

I'm sure you could add a bunch of other examples to that list. Now think on the other side: can you remember instances when Baker and the campaign sent a signal of independence from the Republican Party and its conservative orthodoxy and attitude? I can't. And I don't think the swing voters of Massachusetts noticed any, and I think that's the fundamental reason that Charlie got his ass kicked.

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