Depending on what happens in the next 18 months, Maryland Republicans will have a choice: Stick with the travesty of Trumpism and support Andy Harris for a seventh term in Congress — a term he once said he would not seek — or back a primary challenger who would be more moderate and less embarrassing to the party and the state.
The state’s only Republican in Congress, Harris is a Freedom Caucus conservative who wins elections easily every two years in a gerrymandered district that runs from Ocean City to Carroll County. Heavily Republican, the 1st Congressional is the only Maryland district that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, and Harris even eclipsed Trump’s popularity in November, winning 14,000 more votes than the now-former, twice-impeached president did.
That Joe Biden beat Trump by more than a million votes across deep blue Maryland is of little consequence in the 1st District. It’s a deep red creation of the state’s Democratic leaders. In redrawing the map after the 2010 Census, they packed the district with Republican voters. That maximized Democrats’ chances in the state’s other seven congressional districts and left a safe seat for Harris or, for that matter, just about any Republican.
The maps for all Maryland congressional districts are to be redrawn and in place for the 2022 midterm elections. But unless the 1st District is reconfigured to make it more balanced and competitive, Harris will be heavily favored to win the seat again.
On Thursday, Heather Mizeur, a former state delegate who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, launched a campaign for her party’s nomination to challenge Harris in the general election of 2022. She’s smart, likable and a consensus seeker as different from Harris, in terms of personality and politics, as anyone can be.
But, to put it mildly, it will be an uphill and expensive battle for Mizeur or any Democrat to convince 1st District voters to switch from an extreme conservative to a liberal, or even moderate, representative.
Same is true for any Republican who might want to try and primary Harris from the middle of the road.
And that’s because Trump is still The Man.
The Goucher Poll in October found his approval rating among Maryland Republicans at 87%. That was before Trump lost the November election to Biden, before he started claiming the election was stolen and before he sent a mob of zealous supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol in what turned out to be a deadly effort to stop the congressional confirmation of Biden’s electoral victory.
But, please. The Republican Party is not breaking from the worst president in history. Millions appear to live in the alternate universe where Trump is seen as a hero in exile. Look at the message coming from Washington this week. Not even the charge of inciting insurrection has moved House and Senate Republicans away from him, an indication that most still fear Trump or his base.
He was one of 147 Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to object to Biden’s electoral votes from Arizona or Pennsylvania, or both. He supported Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud and even defended the former president’s phone call to pressure the Georgia secretary of state to flip election results in Trump’s favor.
Democrats have called for Harris to resign because of his vote, following the Capitol riot, to decertify Biden’s electoral victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Harris, of course, doesn’t care; he claims that many constituents have thanked him for supporting Trump. He made his obsequiousness complete by refusing to vote on the articles of impeachment that were approved by the House on Jan. 13 and since sent to the Senate.
The Maryland Republican Party is fully supportive. It dismissed calls for Harris’ resignation as “patently absurd” and “a perfect example of cancel culture,” as if his support of Trump’s lies was merely a policy position and not an act of sedition.
And so, despite his pledge to limit his tenure in Congress to six terms, Harris intends to run for a seventh. He broke a promise, but so what? Who’s going to stop him?
If Trump’s hold over the GOP fades, I suppose it’s possible for a more moderate Republican to enter the 2022 primary. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican who said he was embarrassed that Harris was “part of such an act of sedition” on Jan. 6, is considering running for the seat. You’d think that would make some Maryland Republicans look in Glassman’s direction and say, “Maybe it’s time to dump Andy and run a moderate, or at least someone who won’t embarrass us.”