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Carter: The Trump effect on Maryland politics

President Donald Trump is affecting Maryland's politics, and will continue to do so through the 2018 election.

We've seen signs of this in Annapolis ramp up in recent weeks. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, still wildly popular in Maryland (his 71 percent approval rating last year was the second-highest in the country), has largely kept the word "Trump" out of his mouth, at least in public, since the president was elected.

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Hogan was clear during the election season that he did not approve of Trump's antics (not necessarily his policies, mind you) and said he did not vote for him. Call it politics, call it a conscience, call it whatever you want, but in a state where Democratic voters outnumber registered Republicans 2-1 (but where Trump received about 55 percent of the vote in the Republican primary), it's a savvy political move.

When Hogan avoided discussing the president's controversial travel ban (or whatever Sean Spicer wants to call it) during the governor's State of the State address earlier this month, Democratic legislators immediately crucified him for it.

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On Valentine's Day, the Maryland Democratic Party showed their love for the governor by announcing it had hired a communications adviser to hold Hogan "accountable," i.e., doing its best to tie the governor to the controversial president between now and 2018.

Meanwhile, Maryland senators, including Justin Ready, Michael Hough and Gail Bates (all of whom represent a portion of Carroll), walked out of a Senate session Feb. 10 on the "Maryland Defense Act." The bill, now since passed largely along party lines in both houses, empowers the attorney general to sue the federal government at his discretion on a wide range of issues, without getting the approval of the governor or the General Assembly on a case-by-case basis. The bill was created in the wake of the president's travel ban and in response to the Trump administration in general.

But while Republicans in both the Senate and House disapproved of the bill, all were careful to not let Trump's name come across their lips in open session. None of the Republican opposition centered on Trump's policies. Rather, the Senate opposition and walkout was more about getting a delay to review the bill.

Why is this worth pointing out? Maryland Republicans will tell you they don't want to get caught up in political games. At face value, that's admirable, and quite honestly, we'd benefit greatly if more politicians focused on the job they were elected to do and spend less time trying to get involved in other levels of government. But state Republicans, including Hogan, had no problems wading in national political waters when President Barack Obama was proposing policies they said hurt their constituencies in Maryland.

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Truth is, Republicans are treading carefully with Trump for several reasons.

Hogan and other state Republicans have pushed job creation as a major initiative and landing the new FBI Headquarters building, as has been speculated, would be a coup in that regard. Republicans, however, fear that any opposition to Trump's policies (and his tenuous ego) could cost the state those federal jobs.

Meanwhile, Republicans seeking re-election in 2018 — especially Hogan, but also delegates and senators in more moderate jurisdictions — have to strike a careful balance. Hogan has to not only maintain the traditional conservative base in Maryland, but has to continue to appeal to moderate Democrats who helped him win the Governor's Mansion in the first place. He also can't afford to tick off the Trump-ublicans, who have already made noise about finding someone to oppose Hogan in the primary. Taking a stance on the president's actions, positively or negatively, could cost Hogan voters in either of the latter two buckets.

Don't confuse silence with support — or opposition, for that matter — with the president. Rather, just chalk it up to more political gamesmanship, and the Trump effect, even from those claiming to want nothing to do with such silliness.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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