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As ‘reasonable Republican,’ Larry Hogan talks up bipartisanship. But who wants it? | COMMENTARY

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, right, appeared on CNN's "The Situation Room" with host Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, right, appeared on CNN's "The Situation Room" with host Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, Feb. 17. (CNN)

Like most politicians with aspirations for higher office, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan must read polls. But the other night on CNN, he seemed to have either overlooked or avoided recent polling about his political party and about the country’s desire for big government action to help us through the pandemic and recession.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s refreshing to hear a politician speak his mind and not just what a poll tells him he should say.

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But, as he spoke with Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday night, Hogan’s current positions seemed at such striking odds with two major forces — Donald Trump and the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — that it suggested he’s either committed to some long, uphill battle to change hearts and minds or missing strong signals in the zeitgeist.

Or maybe he just likes the role of “reasonable Republican” (Blitzer’s term) on national television.

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Hogan has made clear that he wants to steer the Republican Party away from what he calls “Trump’s hostile takeover” and back to some semblance of Reagan-Bush reasonableness. That’s laudable. But what would make it happen?

Blitzer asked Hogan about the latest Quinnipiac University poll showing that 75% of Republicans want to see the twice-impeached, twice-acquitted Trump continue to have a prominent role in the party.

Hogan, a Trump-resistant Republican, told Blitzer that he’s willing to fight a battle “for the soul of the Republican Party,” a battle, he said, “that could last for years.” Hogan wants to restore the GOP to what it was before Trump and well before QAnon and the Proud Boys.

But, apparently, that’s not what most of the Republican Party wants, if you follow the polls. The Republican Party is still solidly the Trump Party.

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So while Hogan’s efforts to steer the GOP into calmer waters is admirable, he’s either too early or too late to pull that off, and it’s not clear which.

On CNN, Hogan expressed concern that Republicans might not be able to regain majorities in the Senate or the House of Representatives if they stick with Trump. The same could be true, he said, for governorships.

But that’s not a given. Republican officeholders still fear Trump, even without his Twitter account. In many states, Republicans who oppose Trump — specifically, those in the House and Senate who voted to impeach him or convict him — face backlash from their party. A Trump daughter and daughter-in-law could end up running for Senate seats in 2022. The GOP has 27 of the 50 governorships, and in November’s election, Republicans added to their majorities in state legislatures, giving the party further advantage when congressional districts are redrawn in the coming months.

Hey, I’m not knocking Hogan for saying these things, for expressing the desires of a reasonable Republican. But there’s little evidence that his party wants what he wants. Trump could end up running for president again. If he doesn’t, someone just as caustic, but smarter and less erratic, could emerge and pick up where the Insurrectionist-in-Chief left off.

The other place in Wednesday’s CNN interview where Hogan seemed out of step was when he played his favorite tune, the bipartisan rag. As the reasonable Republican in the room, a part he plays well on TV, Hogan offers this deeply divided country what he considers an ideal — the political middle of bipartisanship and compromise, and he does this with sober rhetoric, expressing old-school Republican prudence and fiscal caution.

Again, you can’t slam someone for trying to find middle ground, to close the national divide, to have Republicans negotiating with Democrats. It’s lions-and-lambs stuff, practically Biblical.

But it doesn’t seem realistic or even necessary.

Hogan had an Oval Office meeting last week with President Joe Biden and he urged the new president to seek bipartisan support of his disaster relief package. “Work with Republicans on a compromise,” Hogan advised Biden.

Blitzer asked what Biden said in response. “He was receptive,” Hogan said, “but he didn’t make any commitments.”

After the meeting, Hogan issued a statement that said: “We cannot afford another partisan process with one party dictating to the other.”

Why not? If Democrats had waited for Republicans to give ground, we would not have had the Affordable Care Act and 20 million more Americans with health insurance.

Three years ago, Trump and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate enacted huge tax cuts. There was no compromising on that. Here we are, a year into a pandemic and recession, with the country in need of big help, and the same Republicans are urging Biden to go lower and slower.

On CNN, Hogan called Biden’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage “extraneous,” something that should not be part of the relief package.

OK, but polls show significant support — 67% of Americans in a 2019 Pew Research Center survey — for the $15 minimum wage. Biden’s proposal for $1.9 trillion in relief had the support of 63% of Americans in another Quinnipiac poll, and 79% of those in a CBS News poll said the package is either the right size or not big enough. Polls by Vox and HarrisX found at least 64% of voters want to see Democrats push the relief along fast, even without bipartisan support. FYI, Governor: That means even some Trump supporters want Biden’s package, and sooner rather than later.

It’s hard to be a reasonable Republican these days.

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