Sitting in front of a digital backdrop of the Maryland State House, Gov. Larry Hogan looked into the camera and began talking about what he calls “broken politics in America.”
For months, the Republican governor has been honing his talking points about dysfunction in Washington and the need for political leaders to set aside partisanship to work for the greater good. He’s made his pitch in national TV interviews and, more recently, on the campaign trail for GOP candidates in other states — as he did last week when he appeared live from Annapolis at an event for the governor of Vermont.
Add his targeted criticisms of President Donald Trump, a refusal to support U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, the publishing of a political memoir, and his write-in vote for Ronald Reagan for president, and some say Hogan looks like a man with an eye on the White House.
“It’s pretty clear to me that these are the moves somebody makes when they are considering a presidential run,” said Mileah Kromer, a pollster and political science professor at Goucher College who tracks Maryland politics closely.
Hogan is in his second four-year term as governor and is barred by term limits for running again once his term is up in January 2023. He’s been floated as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate in the 2022 election or for president in 2024.
Hogan won’t say whether he’s plotting a presidential bid. The last time he talked with The Baltimore Sun about it, he insisted this summer: “It’s not something I’ve really given that much thought to.”
Hogan’s political office declined to make him available for an interview for this article.
But the Republican governor has made clear that he wants to be part of his party’s future. His political organization, An America United, has been busy lining up appearances for Hogan where he can talk about a more civil future for politics generally and the Republican Party specifically.
The most recent venue for Hogan’s pitch was the online forum on “leadership, civility and unity” on Thursday that doubled as a campaign event for Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who is seeking reelection.
Hogan, Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — all Republican governors of small, blue states — took turns talking up bipartisanship and civility.
“The three of us would not have been elected in our states if we weren’t focused on the issues that people care about regardless of their party affiliation,” Hogan said.
Whether Hogan has delivered on his promises of bipartisanship remains open for debate in Maryland. Democratic state lawmakers routinely complain the governor doesn’t work with them constructively. But it’s a pitch that has some thinking he could have a bigger role in his party.
Maryland voters bought into it, electing him twice and continually giving him strong approval ratings, most recently 71% in the latest Goucher College Poll. With Republicans vastly outnumbered in Maryland, Hogan has had to appeal to independents and Democrats to win and stay in office.
Hogan’s future may hinge on what happens with this fall’s presidential election, and whether the Republican Party continues in the vein of Trump or abandons Trump ideology in favor of a more inclusive approach.
Jerry Taylor was among the so-called “Never Trumpers” who tried unsuccessfully to get Hogan to challenge Trump in this election. Taylor, who founded the Niskanen Center think tank in Washington, sees Hogan as an alternative to Trump — if that’s what the party wants.
The best case for Hogan, Taylor said, is if Trump and Trump-aligned candidates fare poorly this fall and in 2022, leading to a shake-up in the party and more appetite for a Hogan-style campaign.
“What he represents is the future of a sane, nonsociopathic Republican Party of the sort we might recognize from days past,” Taylor said.
But is the Republican Party interested in a non-Trumpian future?
“Right now? No. But in 2024, who knows?” Taylor said. “There’s a chance that by 2024, conversations about Donald Trump are things that happened in weird parts of the political world.”
Taylor noted that Hogan also would need to raise money and set up a national infrastructure, which he has not done yet, to mount a serious campaign.
Convincing Republican voters that he’s a strong candidate is one thing; wooing power brokers and national fundraisers — who have put their weight behind Trump — may be more difficult, Kromer noted.
“Would they be willing to back a candidate like Hogan?” Kromer asked.
J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics thinks Trump’s influence is likely to remain strong in the party, win or lose. That makes for a difficult road for Hogan.
Some Republicans who have become disaffected with Trump have abandoned the party. Hogan would have to persuade them to come back into the GOP fold, which Coleman said is “potentially tricky.”
“Hogan would probably have a smaller base to work with in a more Trumpian party,” Coleman said.
Loyola University Maryland professor and talk show host Karsonya “Kaye” Whitehead said Hogan has work to do in his final two years as governor if he wants to be viable in 2024.
Hogan has been criticized for what some say is his lack of constructive action to help Baltimore as the city struggles with violence, concentrated poverty and other ills traced to generations of structural racism.
Should Hogan enter the presidential race, Whitehead said, Baltimore activists will be sure to tell voters how he canceled a promising light rail line and has not supported the state’s largest city enough.
“I do think he’s on the path, but I would argue the road to the White House for Hogan will go through Baltimore,” Whitehead said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
If Hogan plans to run, Whitehead said he would be wise to consider the shifting demographics in America.
If the Republican Party remakes itself as a more inclusive party, there may be less interest in a white candidate like Hogan — especially if there are candidates of color who are equally appealing.
Political analysts have suggested former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, whose parents emigrated from India, or U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black, as potential Republican candidates.
“I do think that white men are not going to be able to take it for granted that they will be at the top of the ticket,” Whitehead said.
One factor that could work in Hogan’s favor is that he has at least some appeal to nonwhite voters. An analysis of voting results and survey data in 2018 showed that Hogan won 27% of the Black vote in the gubernatorial race, when he was up against Democrat Ben Jealous, who is Black and a former head of the national NAACP.
It’s not a huge number, but a respectable one for a Republican in Maryland, said Goucher College’s Kromer.
“He could make the argument better than most Republicans that he’s able to build a coalition for a diversifying electorate,” she said.