Andrew Lelling for Governor

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Andrew Lelling, welcome to the big time.

The top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts is now also a top Republican candidate for higher office, including governor in 2022, thanks to the indictment of a state judge who helped an illegal immigrant evade federal immigration authorities last year.

Lelling would probably tell you he is just following the law. Perhaps he is – the reasons offered in the 19-page indictment seem plausible. But prosecuting calls for almost as much political art as legal reasoning; he showed both in his pursuit of Judge Shelley Joseph.

In left-leaning Massachusetts, illegal immigration is one of the few issues that favor Republicans. That’s partly because it hurts core Democratic constituencies:  union members and self-employed tradesmen. Whereas the union bosses may be officially all-immigrant all-the-time, blue-collar American citizens know which workers have to follow all the regulations and pay all the taxes and which ones don’t. They also know what happens to wages when more potential workers are willing to work for less.

Judge shenanigans also favor Republicans. This particular judge was appointed by a Republican. But it’s his problem, not the problem of Republicans generally. That’s because establishment corruption in Massachusetts is generally associated with the party that controls Beacon Hill. That’s the Democrats, as has been the case since the 1948 election. Voters know that Republican governors often end up appointing Democrats to offices, because there are so many of them. (Both Democrats, and offices.)

The Massachusetts GOP doesn’t exactly have a deep bench when it comes to statewide candidates. Right-of-center political figures who have achievements, name recognition, and talent are in short supply. Lelling, though, has taken the kind of surprising and decisive action that gets people’s attention.

It certainly got Maura Healey’s. The left-wing Democratic attorney general of Massachusetts, instead of siding with her fellow prosecutor, took the other side Thursday afternoon:

The “chilling effect,” if any, will surely be on Massachusetts judges interested in subverting the law to serve their own perverse ideological agenda. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in Massachusetts, but it is unpopular. Judges therefore make for an uncommonly good political target.

What made Healey post this tweet? Is it a sop to supporters who urged her to do it? From a purely political standpoint, it makes no sense.

Check out some of the other public figures blasting Lelling for the prosecution:  the defendant’s lawyer, a law professor, a criminal defense lawyer association officer, the ACLU.

In other words:  Not politicians.

Even Michelle Dubois, the Brockton Democratic state representative who made national headlines by outing a purported ICE raid in March 2017 before it was supposedly going to occur, hasn’t released a public statement through Facebook or Twitter about the judge’s case.

Governor Charlie Baker, who appointed Judge Joseph, and who is widely thought to be uninterested in running for a third term as governor, said something that other politicians will have a tough time arguing against:  “Judges are not supposed to be in the business of obstructing justice.”

Whatever happens in her criminal case, Judge Joseph is not likely to gain politicians many votes.

And this is unlikely to be a one-day event. This story has legs, which means Healey will have to explain herself beyond a short written statement, perhaps while staring into klieg lights.

This statement is all the more puzzling because Healey has been carefully setting the table for a run for higher office by trying to establish a base without making herself unpalatable to middle-of-the-road voters. She has burnished her left-wing credentials by suing President Donald Trump every couple of months or so while refusing to embrace all aspects of the left-wing agenda.

During a debate with Republican challenger Jay McMahon last October, for instance, Healey refused to express support for making Massachusetts a sanctuary state, opting instead for a safe answer:  “No, that’s not my call. I’m the attorney general. My job is to enforce the law.”

That’s what Lelling can say, too, when confronted with a judge who, evidence suggests, conspired with others to help an illegal immigrant elude a federal agent lawfully authorized to take him into custody.

Given the national attention this case is getting and will continue to get, Lelling is surely now on President Donald Trump’s radar screen. If Trump wins re-election in 2020, for instance, and if William Barr decides to leave the administration, Lelling could make a compelling candidate for Attorney General of the United States.

If he prefers the judiciary, a federal judgeship should be easy to get for the asking when it’s available, perhaps around springtime 2020, about six months before the next election.

But if he wants to take a crack at electoral politics, opportunity beckons.

Details remain, of course, like where he stands on key issues and how he projects in person and on TV. Many a good candidate on paper was a loser at the polls. (Now paging Phil Gramm.)

But a clever Republican should have a shot in Massachusetts next time around. With Democrats in the state Legislature determined to increase multiple taxes and pushing a far-left social agenda, a Republican who opposes taxes, illegal immigration, and crime while figuring out a way to appeal to social conservatives without driving away moderately liberal voters would be formidable.

Lelling would start any race with recognition and a reservoir of good will like no other Republican in Massachusetts. In short:  Lelling would be an instant frontrunner for the GOP nomination for any office he wanted.

Winning, of course, is another story.