What does Trump mean for Md.'s governor?

Jessica Kartalija reports.

While everyone has been wondering what Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential race means for the country, I have been trying to glean the consequences for the re-election prospects of Larry Hogan.

The governor has earned a reputation as the anointed one of Maryland politics. His approval rating tops 70 percent, far exceeding those of his three immediate predecessors. He beat cancer, and he has demonstrated a political horse sense rare on the part of someone who had never before held public office.


He is the ultimate rarity in Maryland political circles: a populist Republican in a deep blue state untainted by his party affiliation.

When the governor made the decision to distance himself from the party's presidential nominee, I got it. Apparently so did most other Marylanders: 75 percent approve of the governor's decision to eschew candidate Trump, according to an October Washington Post/University of Maryland poll.


Governor Hogan's cautious approach to a controversial nominee reflects smart politics. State election returns — Secretary Clinton 60 percent, Mr. Trump 35 percent — further bear out this fact.

Nonetheless, candidate Trump is now President-elect Trump, and the governor is confronted with two complicated, difficult challenges.

First, you don't have to be a Ph.D. candidate in political science to realize that having an ally in the White House helps a governor deliver largesse back home.

Given Maryland's heavy reliance on federal investment, it would seem prudent for Governor Hogan to build a relationship with President Trump — or, at the very least, mitigate whatever bad feelings may linger on the part of the president and his team.

However, the party that controls the White House often experiences catastrophic losses in down ballot races two years into a president's term. Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama all experienced this phenomenon.

Given the current degree of polarization in the country, it seems a reasonable possibility for President Trump, too.

Maryland's last GOP governor, Bob Ehrlich, publicized his strong support for President George W. Bush, who raised $2 million for Mr. Ehrlich's 2002 campaign.

Consequently, Democratic challenger Mayor Martin O'Malley successfully linked Governor Ehrlich with the unpopular President Bush, making Mr. Ehrlich the only incumbent governor in 2006 to lose re-election.

Second, governors have certain responsibilities. They manage state government. They make appointments. They work with the legislature. They offer a budget. They handle emergencies. They set priorities that hopefully lead the state toward current and future prosperity.

They are under no obligation to serve as head of their state's political party. It's a take it or leave it role, and Mr. Hogan left it.

Governor Hogan frequently skips the Maryland Republican Party's conventions as well as major fundraising events, and he passed on the chance to make endorsements in competitive contests for party offices and for most electoral offices.

He endorsed in only three races in November's general election; each candidate lost.


When the governor announced he was not endorsing Mr. Trump, the state's Republican Party headquarters in Annapolis received an influx of calls from unhappy partisans. Their disappointment continues to manifest itself on social media and talk radio as well.

Had President-elect Trump's campaign been unsuccessful, Governor Hogan's apostasy would soon be forgotten. But President-elect Trump's success keeps the issue alive both for Governor Hogan's allies and his political opponents as well.

In 2018, if the governor's Democratic challenger follows the 2006 playbook, ads and mailings referencing the Hogan/Trump "team" will inevitably appear.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump's supporters may use litmus test reasoning to decide that Mr. Hogan's ambivalence toward the president warrants skipping the election entirely.

Time will reveal the correct answers to both challenges, but several initial steps are obvious.

First, the governor should quietly reach out to the incoming administration, while avoiding the kind of public presidential bromance Mr. Ehrlich cultivated with President Bush. He needs a friend in the White House less than he needs a non-enemy.

Second, Governor Hogan should continue to steer clear of the quagmire that is intraparty MDGOP politics. He built his own grassroots organization in 2014, and should stick with it. He is in a stronger political position than was the last GOP governor due to his achievements and his unique, post-partisan brand.

Third, he should assume that 2018 will be a challenging cycle for Republicans nationally. Accordingly, he should address it by actively developing an innovative, proactive strategy, perhaps through an early advertising/marketing campaign. Blithely sitting back and hoping for favorable political winds is a recipe for disaster.

Governor Hogan has had many challenges and successes, but he faces one defining irony: A President Clinton may have been more politically beneficial to him than a President Trump.

Richard J. Cross III is a former Capitol Hill and Annapolis press secretary and political speechwriter. He resides in Baltimore. His e-mail address is rcrossiii@comcast.net.

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