What does the defenestration of Liz Cheney by her truth-averse Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives mean for Michael Steele’s potential candidacy for governor of Maryland in 2022?
It doesn’t help.
Cheney, one of the most conservative members of the House, voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection of Jan. 6. She also dared to declare Democrat Joe Biden the fair-and-square winner of November’s presidential election in the face of Trump’s Big Lie to the contrary. For this Cheney got the boot from Republican leadership.
So it’s hard to imagine any Republican candidate anywhere — for Congress or governor, sheriff or register of wills — getting the support of the party without swearing loyalty to Trump and embracing the Big Lie.
But here’s Michael Steele of Maryland. He’s been speaking the same truths as Cheney, all hours of the day, and with sardonic panache. And yet, the former Republican national chairman and Maryland lieutenant governor is considering a run for governor here next year. (Our current governor, Larry Hogan, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.)
But will Maryland Republicans nominate a guy who not only criticized Trump but committed the mortal sin of voting for Biden?
Steele continues to have a large presence among TV talking heads. He regularly joins Democrats and never-Trumper Republicans in slamming and ridiculing his party.
The other day, on MSNBC, Steele agreed with host Nicolle Wallace’s characterization of the GOP as “one of the largest anti-democratic movements in the world.” Presented with a Fox News clip of a Republican congressman standing by his Jan. 6 vote to challenge Biden’s victory, Steele said, “It’s just another degree of stupid that we’re asked to buy.”
And Steele laughed in agreement with another MSNBC host who likened Trump and the Republican Party to a hostage taker and his compliant victims. “Liz Cheney is the rescuer,” Steele chortled. “She’s come and found the hostages. She’s saying, ‘Come on, follow me out of the building! Come on, I’ve got a way!’ And they’re sitting there going, ‘No, no, no. We want to stay.’”
So back to the question: If Republicans, including Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, will throw Cheney out the window, what makes Steele, an even harsher critic of Trump, think he can get the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in Maryland?
On the plus side, Steele has a lot going for him — national name recognition, connections for fundraising, general affability and a sense of humor. He’d be a formidable candidate.
But this time around Maryland Republicans might prefer a candidate who sports a MAGA cap.
Could that candidate be Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s commerce secretary? She launched her campaign for the Republican nomination last month, but, at least publicly, it’s hard to read her feelings about Trump. While acknowledging that Biden was “duly elected,” she avoided answering my question about whether she had supported Trump. As soon as she announced her candidacy, the Maryland Democratic Party circulated a photo of Schulz attending Trump’s 2017 inaugural gala. But if that’s the limit of her connection to Trump — if she keeps her distance as Hogan has these last six years — that makes her a candidate in the Hogan mold.
I guess that makes Schulz a moderate, but that might not be the best position for the next Republican primary.
Certainly a candidate who boldly expresses support for Trump and seeks his endorsement would stand a chance of getting the nomination. And you know Trump would love to back a candidate against the one Hogan endorses.
I know what you’re thinking: Hogan won two terms here, and he’s no Trumpie.
Correct. But Hogan is historically in a class by himself — a Republican governor in a deeply Democratic state who enjoyed consistently high approval ratings from the start, survived cancer, faced no opposition in his second primary, paid no price for being a un-Trumped Republican and became the first governor of his party to win reelection in Maryland in 64 years.
Hogan was first elected in 2014. The political climate is different now: It’s worse.
Of course, I agree with Goucher Poll director Mileah Kromer’s caution: “We’re not sure where the state of Trumpism is going to be when the primary season heats up.”
But what would cause a split between Trump and the Republican base between now and then?
After Cheney’s ouster, it’s hard to imagine it.
Are Maryland Republicans different? Are they more moderate than Republicans elsewhere? I say, “Nah, not really.” Trump lost Maryland, but he still notched more than 976,000 votes here in November.
Michael Steele would make a strong candidate in a general election, but he has to win the primary first.
And even then, should he run a restorative campaign, offering to lead the GOP back to its democracy-loving, fiscally conservative roots, Steele would be in a tough spot. He would have to defend his vote for Biden to those Republicans who hate all the spending the Democratic president proposes, and he would have to defend his call for smaller government to the many Democrats who like Biden and what he’s doing.
So, given how things have changed in the GOP since Hogan first won in 2014, it’s hard to see Steele winning in 2022. He also has little chance of bringing the party of Ronald Reagan back to its senses.
If he really wants to be governor, he should switch parties and go after the Democratic nomination. That’ll shake things up real good.