MANCHESTER, N.H. — As he considers a run for president, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan spoke Tuesday to an influential crowd of about 100 business and political leaders in New Hampshire — and, after the speech, criticized Donald Trump, calling a federal investigation’s findings into the president’s conduct “disturbing” and arguing that Trump narrowly avoided being charged with obstruction.
Here are six takeaways from Hogan’s appearance at the “Politics & Eggs” speaker series — considered a “must” stop for presidential hopefuls — at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
Hogan is getting more serious about running
For weeks, Hogan has responded to questions about whether he wants to run for president with a combination of vagueness and mild interest, often saying: “You never say never.”
On Tuesday, though, Hogan expressed much stronger interest, saying he plans to travel to 16 states and gauge the feelings of voters toward a possible presidential run. Hogan even openly discussed a potential strategy — attracting the votes of Democrats and independents in states where Republicans hold primaries open to anyone, regardless of party affiliation — and said he thought a short campaign beginning as late as November could be successful.
“People have asked me to give this some serious thought, and I think I owe it to them to give it serious consideration,” Hogan said of challenging Trump.
Hogan is getting more critical of Trump
Hogan has often been reluctant to criticize President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, by name.
But Maryland’s governor turned up his denunciation of Trump’s actions in response to the Mueller report’s findings, which detailed at least 10 instances in which Trump tried to interfere with a federal investigation.
“Did he obstruct justice? He tried to,” Hogan said in an interview after the event. “Of course he did. He attempted to over and over again.”
Hogan also said he expected backlash from Trump “loyalists” over the comments, but said he was prepared for that.
“I really am disgusted that people aren’t speaking out,” Hogan said. “Yes, I’m going to get criticized. Yes, people aren’t going to like it. I think it’s important to say what you think. I think it’s important for somebody to say the truth.”
Still, some in the audience thought Hogan could have been more forceful against Trump in his speech, instead of waiting to make critical comments to the press corps after.
“I appreciate that he is one of precious few Republicans not willing to salute everything Trump does, but the times call for more than subtle, mild criticism,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, who is among a group of Republicans trying to recruit a candidate to run against Trump. “No comment in his speech on the Mueller report? C’mon.”
Hogan’s ‘Dear Leader’ line picked up headlines
In addition to media coverage of his potential presidential run and criticism of Trump, Hogan’s line during the question-and-answer portion of the event comparing sycophants of Trump to those of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il generated headlines.
Hogan criticized the Republican National Committee for lining up behind Trump instead of being open to challengers. The committee has declared the party’s “undivided support” for Trump.
“To change the rules and insist on 100 percent loyalty to the ‘Dear Leader,’ it doesn’t sound very much like the Republican Party that I grew up in,” Hogan said.
Hogan would be a large underdog
The Trump campaign is reporting that it has $40.8 million in cash on hand, an intimidating total, while Hogan has only $376,000 left in his Maryland campaign account — money that can’t be transferred to a federal race. His federal campaign account, last used when he ran for Congress in 1992, has been deactivated.
Moreover, the Granite State Poll of New Hampshire voters showed on Monday that Trump continues to exhibit strength among 208 likely Republican primary voters — and Hogan is largely unknown there. About 63% of respondents surveyed said they would vote for Trump in the Feb. 11 primary. Just 1% said they would vote for Hogan.
Hogan brushed aside that polling Tuesday — saying he has not actually begun a campaign — and pointed to his popularity in Maryland.
“Look, in the only state where they know both of us and we've both been on the ballot, I'm about 50 points ahead of him,” Hogan said. “I've never been in New Hampshire really, this is my second trip up, so nobody knows who I am yet."
Even so, the Maryland governor said, if he saw no path to victory he wouldn’t run. He said he isn't about to “launch some sort of a suicide mission.”
Hogan voiced support for lowering prescription drug prices
Asked by an audience member about the high price of prescription drugs across the country, Hogan appeared to endorse a proposal from Maryland’s Democratic legislature to establish a board to study capping prescription costs for state and municipal employees.
“We just passed a bill in our legislature to try to address this issue,” Hogan said. “There’s no question it has to be addressed.”
It was unclear which specific bill Hogan was referring to, but Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly this year approved a board to conduct a two-year study to determine ways to control high drug costs, including capping drug prices in state and local government health plans. That legislation awaits Hogan’s signature.
Vincent DeMarco, who leads the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, praised the governor’s statement.
“We’re thrilled that the governor wants to do something about prescription drug affordability,” DeMarco said. “We hope he signs the bill.”
Hogan vowed to fight for the Bladensburg Peace Cross
Asked by an audience member about the court battle over the fate of a cross-shaped World War I monument in Bladensburg, Hogan said he would never allow the structure to come down.
The nearly 100-year-old, 40 foot-tall Peace Cross in the Prince George’s community honors the men from the county who died in World War I, and is maintained by a state parks commission. But the American Humanist Association has sued, arguing the cross violates the U.S. Constitution’s required separation between church and state.
“It’s a cross to courage and valor and honor for heroes in World War I,” Hogan told the crowd in New Hampshire. “Somebody filed suit saying because it’s a cross they want to take it down after all these years. We stood up and fought for it. … We are not going to let them take it down.”
The Republican governor said that even if the courts rule against his position, state government will find a way to keep the cross up.
“Even if they were to somehow win that court case, we’re still not going to take it down,” Hogan said. “We’re going to find a way to set up a private group that we can transfer the property to.”