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The Trump card

It's not hard to sympathize with Gov. Larry Hogan when the subject of his party's standard-bearer comes up. Superman and kryptonite have more in common than Maryland's pragmatic governor and the flamboyant reality TV star, yet Mr. Hogan is clearly uninterested in publicly criticizing (or praising for that matter) the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

He wants that conversation over, finished, kaput — if only those pesky reporters would respect his choice to stay out of the whole matter. But, alas, they won't as was demonstrated last Thursday when he was asked if a certain New York billionaire was "fit" to serve as president.

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"I have nothing to do with Donald Trump," was Mr. Hogan's immediate response.

In the news business, that's called an evasion, and Maryland's governor has been evading such questions like their answers were held in an off-shore account in the Caymans. Sometimes Mr. Hogan sidesteps the issue gingerly and sometimes brusquely. But his dancing days need to come to an end: It was one thing to perform this waltz weeks ago and not endorse a candidate in Maryland's primary, it's quite another when the dust is settled, a nominee has emerged and the citizens of Maryland now face a momentous choice.

At the very least, Governor Hogan ought to condemn Mr. Trump's most outrageous behavior such as his racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University litigation. Plenty of Republicans have, including many firebrand conservatives who hold Hillary Clinton in disdain. Maryland voters elected Mr. Hogan two years ago on a bipartisan basis (a Republican can't be elected to statewide office in such a "blue" state without such broad political support), and even party faithful must recognize he can't be expected to be a Kool-aid drinker for every GOP candidate who comes down the pike.

Democrats, of course, know the subject of Donald Trump makes the governor squirm, and they're enjoying the show — particularly Rep. John Delaney who is fond of dispatching a mobile billboard to Annapolis that reads, "Silence is an endorsement" with a giant photo of an angry Mr. Trump. Mr. Hogan's spokesman has compared the congressman's gotcha tactics to the sort of partisan sniping one sees on Capitol Hill. And that may be the case, at least from the governor's perspective, but it doesn't make the observation any less valid.

Like it or not, Mr. Hogan now sits in the highest elected office in the state. His opinions on any number of issues that others might find silly and ephemeral — from how much motorists should pay to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the proper amount of chicken manure to spread on farm fields — have become consequential. How can he now have no opinion on the most important subject of all: who should occupy the highest office in the land? Or, to put it another way, how can he witness such outrageous behavior by his party's presumptive nominee and stay silent?

There's one other factor, of course. He probably doesn't want to embarrass New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is regarded as a close political ally and friend but who has endorsed Mr. Trump and now gets raked over the coals almost daily for doing so. But Mr. Hogan is no Governor Christie, a former prosecutor who has at least one thing in common with Mr. Trump — a willingness to cross swords with his critics with a minimum of prodding, right or wrong.

Our advice? Just be honest. Voters and allies will forgive a politician who wears his heart on his sleeve. In 1992, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the titular head of Maryland's Democratic Party, endorsed Republican George H.W. Bush over Democrat Bill Clinton to the chagrin of his fellow Democrats (and with far less reason to jump ship). Six years later, he was elected Maryland's comptroller defeating his nearest primary opponent by 30 points and the GOP candidate, 62-to-38 percent, in the general election.

Few states have as much directly at stake in a presidential contest as Maryland given Washington's proximity and economic ties, and few elections have featured a candidate as odious, unqualified and downright frightening as Mr. Trump. This is not a time to hide or deflect, it's a moment for courage and candor. One thing is certain: Mr. Hogan will keep hearing questions about his views on Donald Trump until Nov. 8 whether he likes it or not or whether reporters "google" his past deflections on the subject or not. It's only appropriate that he should.

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