Maryland has had its share of colorful political figures over the years, from a married governor periodically driven by state troopers to Southern Maryland to see his mistress to a comptroller with the catchphrase “God bless y’all real good.” Or there was the perennial (but always unsuccessful) candidate for the U.S. Senate who ran with the 1966 slogan, “your home is your castle — protect it,” to signal where he stood on civil right issues. And those were just the Democrats (Marvin Mandel, Louis Goldstein and George Mahoney to name names).
But for the most part, statewide political campaigns of recent decades have been sober and straightforward. Whether this is because Maryland has been solidly Democratic (and thus not prone to hammer-and-tong partisan scraps) or because our voters are more educated than the national average, and our proximity to the nation’s capital has made us slightly more sophisticated — or wary — about politics, it’s hard to say. But one thing is clear from even a cursory review of the record: The populist right-wing political tidal waves from the Tea Party of 2009 to The Donald Trump MAGA movement of 2016 and 2020 that have crashed on the shores of other states have produced no more than a splash here.
And what is the outlook for Maryland politics in 2022? No tsunamis, but perhaps quite a bit of foul weather ahead.
At least that’s the forecast coming out of Ocean City where political movers and shakers from across the state recently gathered for the annual Maryland Association of Counties’ Summer Conference. The event was notable for its interest in taxes, budgets, land use policy and, oh, the current governor calling his party’s nominee to succeed him mentally unstable. That’s right, Gov. Larry Hogan somehow found the time away from MACO to conduct an interview on Delmarva radio station WGMD during which he said Del. Dan Cox is “not, in my opinion, mentally stable,” as first reported by The Washington Post. It’s no surprise that the governor is no fan, as Mr. Cox is Trump-anointed. Mr. Hogan previously described the delegate as a “QAnon whack job,” but one normally expects such harsh assessments to be set aside a month after the primary. For the good of the party and all that. But Mr. Cox is no typical nominee. He regularly refers to Mr. Hogan, whom polls suggest continues to be a popular political figure in this state, as a RINO (Republican in Name Only), and he called the governor out for having “a problem with telling the truth and mounting smear antics.”
If anyone was expecting Mr. Cox to make some kind of post-primary pivot toward normalcy or centrism, guess again. He’s already attacking his Democratic opponent, author Wes Moore, as a promoter of “communist” and “socialist” ideas. His social media posts falsely decry “critical race theory” as being taught in schools, describe Maryland as a “sanctuary state,” and promise to “end health mandates” or “jabs for jobs,” presumably meaning vaccination requirements. Indeed, he may be Trumpier than Donald Trump. And that’s not even mentioning the Republican nominee to be Maryland’s next attorney general, Michael Peroutka, 70, who promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories five years after the event and once ran for president as a member of the Constitution Party. He is, shall we say, out there.
Dorothy, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. Or possibly — given how polarized Kansas politics have become — that’s exactly where we are and where prominent Republicans, with the exception of Governor Hogan, want to take Maryland voters. As soon as we hear about “CRT” or “transgender indoctrination in schools” we know that Oz awaits. And, by the way, we’d be happy to point out any prominent Democratic candidates who are similarly going over the edge but, so far, there’s simply no equivalent. No statewide candidate calling to “defund” the police or markedly raise taxes or go full Marxist or Maoist or whatever.
What’s a Maryland voter to do about the bizarreness of this election cycle? Our advice is to remain calm, take candidate pronouncements with a grain of salt, ignore the social media echo chambers whenever possible and stock up with enough mental health supplies (good books, board games and ice cream) to last the next 11 weeks.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.