The biggest astronomical alignment of the week may have been the Super/Blue/Blood moon of Wednesday morning, but a close second, from a Maryland politics perspective at least, was the coincidence of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech Tuesday night and Gov. Larry Hogan’s fourth State of the State on Wednesday afternoon. There was simply no comparison between the two, and surely that’s just what Governor Hogan was aiming for.
Say what you will about the dog-whistle rhetoric and half-at-best truths (don’t fret, folks, our Alternative Fact of the Week feature is coming!), President Trump knows how to put on a show. He probably set a new record for poignant tales of ordinary Americans seated alongside the First Lady — certainly for the number who wound up in tears on live TV. The image of a North Korean dissident pumping his crutches in the air is sure to go down in SOTU lore. The president preened and mugged for the cameras in the House chamber just like he was still presiding over The Apprentice.
By contrast, Governor Hogan’s speech was, and we mean this in the nicest way possible, kinda boring. It was soberly and calmly delivered by a serious-faced governor. It broke no new ground on policy or rhetoric. It treated the governor’s opponents respectfully and passed on opportunities to rail against Democrats on popular issues like ending gerrymandering. Mr. Hogan referred only to one group of guests in the audience, the family of a young veteran who died of a drug overdose, and he treated the moment gently and somberly. The governor’s theme — working together across party lines in Annapolis on the economy, education, the environment and the opioid epidemic — is familiar ground for Mr. Hogan. In fact, it was more or less a retread of his last two State of the State speeches.
And that’s exactly what he needed to do.
Mr. Hogan is a popular Republican governor in a blue state who, despite sky-high job approval, keeps failing to break the 50 percent mark in a hypothetical matchup against his top Democratic rivals. He has to look at what happened in Virginia (where Democrats not only retained the governor’s mansion but also made huge gains in the legislature), Alabama (where a Democrat won a Senate seat for the first time in decades) and Wisconsin (where a Democrat this month won a special state senate election in a district Mr. Trump easily carried in 2016) and wonder what kind of Democratic tide he’s going to be swimming against next fall in a state where Hillary Clinton crushed Mr. Trump. Democrats want badly to tie him to the president, and the more Mr. Hogan can do to seem non-Trumpish, the better.
The governor won in 2014 with an outsider campaign that had a distinctly snarky edge in its attacks on the Democratic nominee and the Democratic establishment. But this time around, Mr. Hogan is clearly trying to portray himself not as the happy warrior but as a sober, mature, reasonable leader. He wasn’t trying in this speech to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate. He wasn’t trying to convince voters to take a chance on him. He was just trying not to poke the hornet’s nest.
Whether that will be enough come November, we shall see.
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