Former secretary of state James Baker considered voting for Joe Biden in November but will instead keep backing Donald Trump, a new biography reveals, in the process outlining a key reason for continued Republican support for the scandal-plagued US president.
Though the “myriad ethical scandals surrounding Trump were head-spinning”, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser write, “Baker kept telling himself it was worth it to get conservative judges, tax cuts and deregulation.”
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A Baker III, will be published on Tuesday. The Guardian obtained a copy.
Baker, 90, is a pillar of the Republican establishment who served his party under Gerald Ford, as campaign chief; Ronald Reagan, as White House chief of staff and treasury secretary; George HW Bush, as chief of staff and secretary of state; and George W Bush, playing a major role in winning the recount in Florida in 2000 which put the younger Bush in the Oval Office despite losing the popular vote.
Baker and Glasser, a husband and wife team, write for the New York Times and the New Yorker respectively.
They report that in 2019, Baker considered backing Biden. But by the fall he told them: “Don’t say that I will vote for Biden. I will vote for the Republican, I really will. I won’t leave my party. You can say my party has left me because the leader of it has. But I think it’s important, the big picture.”
Baker and Glasser add: “The big picture, he said, was Republicans controlling the executive branch.”
Trump has slashed environmental and other regulations and signed into law tax cuts which inordinately benefit the rich.
Perhaps most lastingly, he has appointed about 200 judges to the federal judiciary and is preparing to name his third supreme court justice as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is seeking to ram through a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week at the age of 87. McConnell appears to have the votes to confirm another conservative, tilting the nine-member court to the right, 6-3.
Such is the size of the prize, Baker is willing to vote again for a man who has peppered the party establishment with abuse, particularly the family he faithfully served.
Trump blasted former Florida governor Jeb Bush out of the Republican primary in 2016, has regularly attacked George W Bush and was not invited to the funerals of George HW Bush and his wife Barbara. Neither former president voted for Trump in 2016.
Baker is known to have met Trump during the 2016 campaign, providing a two-page memo meant to point the candidate back towards the political centre.
It did not work. Trump and a campaign at times led or advised by two aides with close ties to Baker, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, rode to the White House on a tide of division and scandal and with Russian assistance.
Manafort and Stone were both convicted of crimes arising from their work for Trump, who provoked outrage when he commuted Stone’s sentence. Stone now advocates that Trump declare martial law in order to stay in office.
Baker, a famously ruthless operator, was also famously thorough; his mantra: “Prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” Trump has lurched from crisis to crisis.
On the world stage, which Baker strode as senior US diplomat from 1989 to 1992, Trump has provoked division and cozied up to authoritarian leaders. At home, Trump has wallowed in partisan strife while failing to cope with a pandemic in which 200,000 have died and nearly 7 million, Baker and his wife among them, have been infected.
Glasser and Peter Baker also report the former secretary of state’s resistance to pleas from friends not to help Trump or endorse him. The retired news anchor Tom Brokaw is quoted as saying: “Jim, you do not want to do this. You’ve served your party nobly and your party ably and you’re at an age and stage, I’m telling you as a friend, that this is not a good move.”
Baker did not endorse Trump. But like many in his party, from the establishment to the rank and file, he did vote for him. It seems he will do so again.