We agree with Rep. Andy Harris so rarely that we feel compelled to point to a very sensible thing he said this weekend about the presidential buzz that’s suddenly attached itself to Gov. Larry Hogan. “I believe Larry Hogan is exactly the kind of Republican who can be elected in Maryland,” Dr. Harris said at a Saturday conference of Maryland conservatives, according to the website Maryland Matters. “I don’t know if he’s the kind of Republican who can be elected nationwide.” And there’s the rub: Mr. Hogan’s willingness to compromise with Democrats on issues like health care, government spending and the environment have made him popular in Maryland but would make him a pariah among base Republican voters who typically vote in presidential primaries. Yet, that isn’t stopping the idea of Hogan 2020 from getting heaps of buzz in the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, fivethirtyeight.com and more. Mr. Hogan is clearly intrigued. He’s reportedly meeting with some of those asking to him run and is planning to do some waters-testing in the first caucus state of Iowa when he’s there as head of the National Governor’s Association in March.
Larry Hogan is sworn in for his second term as governor of Maryland. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Maybe Mr. Hogan is enjoying the moment and soaking up some attention while he can. But maybe he really will run — and that could be bad news. We say that not because he’s unqualified to be president — in what may be the faintest praise we’ve ever uttered, he is manifestly more so than the actual president. We’re not worried that a campaign would divert his attention from running the state — his has often been a light hand on the tiller while the General Assembly drives policy, and that’s worked out pretty well. We aren’t scared of retaliation against Maryland by President Trump. He certainly might try, but the Democratic House, led by the former Nancy D’Alesandro, would presumably have our back. Nor is our concern that he would lose, and badly, to a president with a lock on the Republican base and a way of eviscerating opponents on the campaign trail. Losing in a campaign that stands for a sane conservative alternative to Trumpism (and weakens the president’s general election prospects in the bargain) would be a worthwhile pursuit.
No, our worry is that Governor Hogan might actually try to do what it takes to win caucuses and primaries in crucial states like Iowa and South Carolina. Adopting policies and politics to appeal to those electorates would amount to a historic bait-and-switch for Maryland voters.
Remember last year, when Governor Hogan backed post-Parkland gun control measures in the General Assembly; worked with Democrats to enact a temporary state-level health insurance premium tax to fund an effort to save Maryland’s Obamacare exchange; pocketed another de facto tax increase as a down payment on increased education funding; joined an alliance of governors to oppose the president’s policies on climate change; and pulled Maryland National Guard troops from the border in protest of the Trump administration’s family separation policy? If he’s trying to make a play for traditional Republican presidential primary voters, you can kiss that Larry Hogan goodbye. How about the Larry Hogan who steers clear of divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage? It was nice knowing that guy.
Of course, neither the president nor his surrogates would be apt to let primary votes forget Mr. Hogan’s various apostasies to conservative doctrine. And that’s where things could get dicey for Marylanders who thought they were getting four more years of the moderate, not-too-partisan Larry Hogan. It wouldn’t be sufficient for the governor to start talking like a far-right conservative; he would have to start acting like one, too, and that would mean conflict in Annapolis the likes of which we haven’t seen.
It wouldn’t work anyway. We have no doubt that Mr. Hogan can throw red meat to the base like the best of them, but he has at this point spent too much time and effort cementing his brand as a pragmatic centrist to credibly present himself as anything else. If he’s going to run, better to stay true to himself and lose than to play politics and still lose.