Late last week, it was disclosed that Gov. Larry Hogan, rather than choose any of the candidates running for president in 2020 (or any other sentient creature), wrote in the name of Ronald Reagan, the nation’s 40th president who died 16 years ago, on his General Election ballot. He seems to believe he deserves some credit for this as it meant the Republican governor did not vote for Donald Trump, his party’s standard-bearer. “I know it’s simply symbolic,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office.”
He’s certainly correct that it won’t change the results in his state. All signs indicate that Maryland voters are backing former Vice President Joe Biden big time; the latest Goucher College Poll pegs Mr. Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump at a 2-to-1 margin. And that’s hardly a shocker either given that Hillary Rodham Clinton won in Maryland in 2016 by a roughly 60% to 34% margin against Mr. Trump. But Gov. Hogan is dead wrong about the symbolism. What voting for a deceased man principally demonstrates is that Maryland’s governor doesn’t take the obligation of voting seriously. And in an election where the basic values of this democracy are at stake, it is deeply disappointing to hear that someone in such a high-profile position would so thoughtlessly abdicate his responsibility to represent not just the best interests of his state but of his country at such a perilous moment in our history.
First, we would observe that Mr. Reagan’s legacy is not what it once was, even within the GOP. For Exhibit A we would turn to the recording first unearthed last year in which Mr. Reagan referred to Africans as “monkeys” in a phone call with Richard Nixon in 1971. And then there were the massive deficits, bloated military budgets and tax cuts for the rich justified by the mythical “supply-side” economics. Perhaps the most lasting impact was to make it OK to spout prejudices again — a theme that the incumbent has really run with. But then the 64-year-old Mr. Hogan would not be the only member of his party or his generation to view the Reagan era through rose-colored glasses or to ignore casual racism.
Still, the bigger problem is that Mr. Hogan has essentially decided to sit this one out. Not quietly, not with a measure of embarrassment, not even as a loyal son’s tribute (as took place four years ago when he cast a write-in vote for his father, former Rep. Larry Hogan Sr., who died in 2017), but with an alert to the media. Here’s how his “protest” vote will actually be recorded: for “other,” meaning nobody. And here’s how his vote may be interpreted by the millions of Marylanders who have supported Mr. Hogan in the past: “Oh, when there’s a politically inconvenient choice, it’s best to let others decide who will serve in the highest office in the land.”
Americans died so that Larry Hogan could have the right to vote. He’s certainly not required to respect that sacred right, to cherish it or to even participate in it, but how he could so proudly disrespect it is something of a quandary. This is supposed to make him seem statesmanlike? Above the fray? Defiant of his president? To preserve his middle-of-the-road political standing for his own possible run for president or for a U.S. Senate seat? To his credit, Mr. Hogan has sometimes stood up to President Donald Trump. But in this moment, when he might truly make a difference, when he could demonstrate to Maryland and the rest of the country that Mr. Trump’s divisive, racist, partisan, vitriolic politics are unacceptable, he falters. And his excuse is that others in his state will do the heavy lifting for him.
What this nation needs is someone who understands the difference between right and wrong, who doesn’t see Baltimore as merely a prop to scare white suburban and rural voters, who believes in both equality and prosperity for all (not to mention in science), who does not incite violence against sitting governors, who is capable of reading briefing papers, and who intends to govern the entire country. It looks like an easy call. These are among the reasons we endorsed Mr. Biden. And these are the reasons why all eligible voters, whether they live in Maryland or elsewhere, should ignore the Hogan example and cast a meaningful ballot this year. The nation’s future depends on it.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.