As he seriously considers a run for president, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan criticized President Donald Trump on Tuesday over the findings of the Mueller investigation — calling its report “disturbing” and saying Trump narrowly avoided being charged with obstruction.
Speaking to an influential crowd of about 100 business and political leaders in New Hampshire, Hogan said a “growing” number of Republicans are urging him to launch a primary challenge to the president — and he plans to visit 16 states while gauging interest in his potential candidacy.
“People have asked me to give this some serious thought, and I think I owe it to them to give it serious consideration,” Hogan said of challenging Trump.
Hogan’s comments came during and after the “Politics & Eggs” speaker series — considered a “must” stop for presidential hopefuls — at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics. The state is home to the first U.S. presidential primary, scheduled in 2020 for Feb. 11.
After his speech, Hogan told a swarm of reporters that he was disturbed by the revelations about Trump’s conduct disclosed in the report on the investigation into whether his campaign officials colluded with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
“There was some very disturbing stuff found in the report,” Hogan said. “Just because aides did not follow his orders — that’s the only reason why we don’t have obstruction of justice.”
Mueller’s report detailed at least 10 instances in which Trump tried to interfere with the federal investigation, including when the president ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller removed. The report said McGahn refused.
“Did he obstruct justice? He tried to,” Hogan said in an interview after the event. “Of course he did. He attempted to over and over again.”
Apart from U.S. senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, few Republicans have spoken out against Trump since the report’s release last week. Asked why that was the case, Hogan suggested many are afraid of the president.
“There’s no profiles in courage here,” Hogan said. “They’re afraid of being primaried. They’re afraid of being tweeted about. Very few of us are willing to say what we really think.”
Maryland’s governor said he expected backlash from Trump “loyalists,” but said he was prepared for that.
“I really am disgusted that people aren’t speaking out,” Hogan said. “Yes, I’m going to get criticized. Yes, people aren’t going to like it. I think it’s important to say what you think. I think it’s important for somebody to say the truth.”
Hogan’s comments about potentially running for office were his strongest and clearest to date.
He openly discussed strategy — including attracting the votes of Democrats and independents in states where Republicans hold primaries open to anyone, regardless of party affiliation — and said he thought a short campaign could be beneficial to a Republican challenger to Trump.
Hogan said he wouldn’t have to decide whether to run for months.
“I would not run just to be a spoiler for the president,” Hogan said. “I’m pretty good at retail politics. That's how I won my state with no money.”
Hogan largely relied on public financing to win office in 2014; he raised $19.2 million in the election cycle leading up to his victory last fall for second term.
Hogan also criticized the Republican National Committee for lining up behind Trump instead of being open to challengers.
“To change the rules and insist on 100 percent loyalty to the ‘Dear Leader,’ it doesn’t sound very much like the Republican Party that I grew up in,” Hogan said.
He provided few specifics of his trips to other states but said one event he will attend is in Utah at the invitation of Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan: "I'm not just wandering around the states, hitchhiking around.”
Hogan said he would run only if he saw a path to victory: “I'm not going to launch a suicide mission.”
Hogan, a popular two-term Republican governor of a Democratic state, has taken few concrete steps to date to challenge Trump — but he’s been encouraged to do so by so-called “Never Trump” Republicans.
The Granite State Poll of New Hampshire voters, released Monday, showed Trump continues to exhibit strength among 208 likely Republican primary voters — and Hogan is largely unknown. About 63% of respondents surveyed said they would vote for Trump in the Feb. 11 primary. Just 1% said they would vote for Hogan.
The poll surveyed voters between April 10-18, calling landline and cell phone numbers. The margin of error for the findings regarding likely GOP primary voters was 6.8 percentage points.
Hogan spent much of the speech touting his record in Maryland and insisting on a more civil approach to governing than that employed by Trump.
"I'm for building the Republican Party into a bigger tent," he said.
The party, he said, needs to build a base beyond white males, and pointed out he did well among female and black voters in Maryland.
Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general whose law firm is a sponsor of the “Politics & Eggs” series, said he believes Hogan’s voice is needed for the future of the party.
“The party is bigger than one person,” Rath said. “There’s a party that’s going to happen after that person leaves office.”
Rath said Hogan’s message was to “bring us back to the center, in terms of how we treat each other.”
“It’s an effective counterpoint to what we have now,” Rath said. “He’s an honorable fellow. Is there a place for that in politics? I sure hope there is.”