After last night, it’s time to call it. It’s basically over. Rubio is out. Ted Cruz got badly mauled and has no favorable primaries in the near future, with the possible exception of Utah. Kasich looks even more hopeless, now that his home state of Ohio is out of the way. Despite the last, best efforts of #NeverTrump conservatives, Trump is the nominee.
Now is the time to make good on threats to go third-party. The only question is: who will be the candidate?
It can’t be anyone who Trump has, or will have, already beaten. His whole schtick is being a winner in a party of losers, and running Rubio in the general is as hopeless as it sounds. Mitt Romney emerged as an early favorite, but the same basic “loser” problem applies. Trump would look at him in an October debate and say “Mitt, the voters have already rejected you not once but twice. And yet, here you are again.” And he’d have a point.
No, the insurgent would have to not only be a present office-holder, but also one whose career could survive the hit of formally quitting the Republican Party and renouncing its official presidential nominee, and thereby losing the support of the GOP apparatus in their own state elections. It’s doable — think of Joe Lieberman winning reelection as an “independent Democrat” — but it would mean voluntarily taking on quite a heavy burden. The candidate would be quitting the GOP in order to save the GOP, and instead of gratidude, they can expect the NRSC or equivalent to run ads in favor of their next primary opponent!
But nothing could be more important than saving this country from Donald Trump. It would be a mistake to rely solely on Hillary Clinton, as she continues to face legal troubles over her email servers; she (fairly or not) will be painted as Obama’s successor, and thus will lose if the economy tanks before November; she may even be hiding significant health issues, as her worrisome coughing fits illustrate. Even if the cough means nothing, you can take it to the bank that Trump will spread disinformation stating the opposite. It’s not like the media has seriously contested any of his other lies yet.
So then, who could it be?
My suggestion: Charlie Barker. This Republican governor remains hugely popular — in his deep-blue state of Massachusetts, natch. He can steal his home state away from both Clinton and Trump and can play being the Only Sane Man on the debate stage next to paranoid Clinton and megalomaniac Trump.
In addition, he can own the increasingly important opioid-abuse issue in a way his opponents can’t, with a bill he recently signed into law. He came out relatively early as a #NeverTrumper, and represents a fresh face of the mainline party that is, apparently, quite palatable to moderate Democrats and independents, the same people who are almost as scared of Ted Cruz as they are of Der Trumpfenfuehrer. A lot of Dems would give him a look, especially if they are tired of the Clintons and their scandals. And hardline conservatives would fall over themselves to support this guy, even though they would have been tepid at best regarding a Charlie Baker candidacy any other year — considering their alternatives, it would be a no-brainer.
Downsides are relatively few. One is the aforementioned penalty of having to formally quit the GOP, but this might not even be such a bad thing in lefty-left Massachusetts. Then there is the issue of Massachusetts Republican governors not having much luck in presidential politics lately. But without anything like Romneycare to hang around his neck, this won’t be relevant beyond a few hot takes at Slate.com.
He does not have the penalty of having already lost once to Trump, or having lost twice on the national stage. He’s not some old, retired fart up against two fellow codgers. He’s got at least some name recognition, even though nobody can match that of either Clinton or Trump. He’ll come across as a savior to a party that, ironically, he is forced to formally abandon, and I believe he’ll have enough play with independents and Reagan Democrats to at least have a shot at stealing the contest away from the two parties’ nominees.
The time for a Charlie Baker bid is now. But he, or anyone else, has to move fast to get on the ballot in most states. I hope we hear about a bid within the next week, lest Republicans simply give in to defeat and tacitly support the least qualified presidential nominee in American history.