Larry Hogan's split with Donald Trump divides Maryland Republicans

Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan won't vote for Donald Trump, and some in Maryland GOP's are furious.

As Republicans across the country try to coalesce behind their controversial presidential nominee next week, Gov. Larry Hogan won't be among them.

Some deride the Republican governor for his repudiation of Trump. Some forgive him. Some agree with him. Others are baffled that he couldn't stay quiet.

The disagreement has exposed fault lines in Maryland's minority party and its leadership at a time when its fortunes are turning — with popular Hogan at its helm, record numbers of Republicans in local office and its best fundraising in more than a decade.

Hogan is one of two sitting Republican governors to disavow their party's presumptive nominee this year and one of only two Republicans elected governor in Maryland since 1966.

While a loud minority predicts that Hogan will be challenged in the 2018 primary because of his opposition to Trump, a broad swath of resigned Republicans hope party members can make up before Hogan seeks re-election in a state dominated by Democrats.

"I would hope that Republicans in Maryland would understand how important it is to get Larry Hogan re-elected, the same way they understand how important it is to get Donald Trump elected," said Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

Maryland's Trump delegates will convene in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, some with a considerable amount of scorn for Hogan, the symbolic head of their state party. They accuse Hogan of being a tepid supporter of the Maryland GOP before he failed to back Trump. Now, they say he further offended some party loyalists and could hurt Maryland if Trump wins the presidency.

"I don't see any other way about it. You're either helping Trump or you're helping Hillary Clinton," said Joe Collins Jr., a Trump delegate from Baltimore.

"You're not the ordinary Joe Schmo," Collins said of the governor. "You're the top of the Maryland Republican Party ticket. At that time, you need to get behind the nominee, or you need to keep your mouth shut. If you can't support him, then you need to be quiet and go sit in your corner until the game is over."

The governor said last week he was "not concerned at all" about alienating members of his party or losing their support. He plans to attend a perennial Maryland political event — the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield — rather than rub shoulders with Trump delegates at the convention.

"I really don't have any obligation at all to be involved in national politics," Hogan said. "Most people are happy that I'm staying in Maryland and staying focused in Maryland."

While Hogan may lose the support of some Trump supporters, pundits said, his stance in this Republican presidential primary could further endear him to moderate Republicans or  Democrats.

Hogan got 43 percent of the Republican primary vote in 2014, compared to 54 percent for Trump this year. Hogan went on to win big margins among Republicans and pick up enough Democratic and independent voters to put him over the top. He won Baltimore County, which went for Democrat Martin O'Malley in 2010.

Many Republicans who love Trump forgive Hogan for not doing the same.

J. Michael Collins, a Trump delegate from Reisterstown, said the governor has earned a pass.

"He's done so much good for the state in the last two years that one thing he's spoke about isn't going to change a whole lot of minds against Governor Hogan," Collins said.

Joe Sliwka, a Trump delegate from Harford County, said Hogan is entitled to his own opinion. Still, he said: "I just hope that he comes around to support Mr. Trump."

Recent polls place Hogan's job approval ratings above 70 percent in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. In November, before Hogan expressed any views about Trump, a poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun and University of Baltimore found Hogan's job approval rating among Republicans to be 90 percent.

Some Trump supporters suggest that, at least among their friends, that number is declining. And Republican leaders point to Hogan's rejection of Trump as the latest signal the governor pays only lip service to supporting the GOP.

Since his upset win in 2014, Hogan has not attended a Lincoln Day fundraiser for the party's central committees in local counties, and he's skipped both of the party's big annual fundraisers — though he holds his own.

A fundraiser for U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga last month was among the first high-profile fundraisers to which he's lent his name.

"There's a level of arrogance. 'We don't need you. We got elected,'" said Matthew Adams, co-chair of the Somerset County Republican Central Committee. "We got the message: 'Don't ask. Not coming.'"

Adams, a Trump supporter, said Hogan needs to remember that after he won the Republican primary in 2014 Adams and others who backed Hogan's opponents threw themselves into Hogan's general election campaign.

"Had those us who were not fans of Larry Hogan stuck to our guns and said we're not going to support him, he would not be governor right now," Adams said.

Frustration has swollen into talk that Hogan has permanently damaged his brand in some corners of the Maryland GOP. Adams said it doesn't help the state's economy to antagonize the future president, noting that Maryland depends on its large federal workforce.

"It was a wrong gamble to gamble against his party, because that makes him look more like a pandering politician," he said. "It makes him look like he's trying to appeal to Democrats. And for what? They're still going to override his vetoes. I think he's just ostracized himself from the core conservative wing of his party."

Hogan's spokesman, Matthew A. Clark, said the governor has received relatively little feedback on his position.

Over the past 18 months, Hogan's office has received 225 emails or letters about Trump. He received three times as many messages about legislation to protect bees, six times as many about Syrian refugees, and 12 times as many about oyster restoration, Clark said. The tally does not include social media messages, where Trump supporters are active.

There, outrage and predictions for ramifications are swift and growing — that Hogan will be a one-term governor, that punishment under a Trump administration could endanger the state's economy, that Hogan is a "traitor."

The conservative anti-immigration group Help Save Maryland used Hogan's lack of support for Trump as evidence that Maryland's governor is soft on immigration.

"Maryland Republicans were beside themselves with joy that in a blue, blue state they succeeded in electing a Republican governor in the fall of 2014," wrote activist Ann Corcoran in an article distributed by Help Save Maryland. "The bloom is now off the rose as Governor Larry Hogan says point blank he will not vote for Donald Trump and doesn't agree with most of what Trump says."

Despite the noise, many party insiders expect most Republicans to stay loyal to the governor.

"At this point I think it's a short-term headache. But over the long term, I don't think it does him any damage," said Richard Cross, a former speechwriter for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and commentator on Maryland GOP politics.

Governors can take on the role of party leader at their own discretion, Cross said. He pointed to the example of the late Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat who endorsed Republican George H.W. Bush for president in 1992 but went on to win two terms as comptroller.

Cross said the grumbling about Hogan's disavowal of Trump and absence from party events is largely confined to what he estimated to be 300 to 500 activists involved in the traditional party apparatus. He said one reason Hogan founded his advocacy group, Change Maryland, as a vehicle for his gubernatorial apparatus was to avoid the party establishment and its constant infighting.

"I think he's just tired of dealing with it," Cross said.

Political experts see Hogan's rejection of Trump as savvy.

If Trump loses in the fall, Hogan will benefit in a re-election fight against Democrats, said Melissa Deckman, who chairs the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown.

"Whoever the Democratic nominee will be in 2018, if Hogan had backed Trump, I think that would have been an issue," she said. "Trump's building a wall, and I think Hogan would rather build bridges."

In some states, Republicans worry about Trump hurting down-ballot candidates. That's not the case in Maryland, where state and county officials aren't up for election this year. Some Trump supporters, however, worry that the popular governor's rejection of Trump could hurt the top of the ticket.

The governor's position makes it awkward for Republican activists going door to door to stump for Trump, said Frederick County Councilman Billy Shreve, a Trump supporter and chairman of his county's central committee. Hogan hasn't offered many details about why he dislikes Trump, Shreve said, which makes his position difficult to explain to voters.

He warned that Hogan may not be as popular with the GOP base as he thinks.

"You have 15,000 people at the Trump event in Hagerstown," he said. "Tell me when you've ever seen 5,000 people at a Hogan event."

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