Barry Glassman thinks he should hardly have to defend his Republican bona fides, not after more than 30 years as a GOP councilman, Maryland legislator and leader of staunchly Republican Harford County.
But these days, the second-term county executive gets emails calling him a RINO — a pejorative acronym for “Republican In Name Only.” That puzzles him, he says, because “I have probably spent much longer than most of these recent activists supporting the party and trying to build a broad conservative base.”
The emails — along with unusually biting exchanges among some state GOP leaders — reflect a state and national party at war with themselves over President Donald Trump, whom Glassman has criticized, and what it means to be a Republican.
The deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol sharpened the rhetoric over the Republican president: whether to punish or defend him, abandon him or allow him to remain the de facto head of the party after his term ends next week. All 222 U.S. House Democrats, joined by 10 Republicans, impeached Trump for the second time Wednesday on charges of inciting the attack with lies to supporters about the Nov. 3 election and exhortations to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
In Maryland, the divisions are so pronounced that Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, arguably the state’s most powerful Republican elected officials, are trading barbs in the media. They haven’t spoken in more than a year, perhaps much longer, according to both sides. Members of Congress usually work closely with their state’s governor, particularly when they are of the same party.
Hogan has been a frequent Trump critic, particularly since the president began making unfounded claims that the election won by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden was “rigged.” Harris, who argued on Trump’s behalf against finalizing state-certified election vote results, defended the president’s conduct. Harris called the impeachment proceedings, which he skipped, “divisive, hastily called and politically motivated.”
State and national Republicans have long had rifts, but they were less noisy and pronounced. Until Twitter shut down his account on Jan. 8, Trump paraded a steady stream of provocative positions, often on social issues such as immigration that can provoke emotional responses.
“Trump has been the most polarizing president of either party in perhaps 100 years,” said political science professor Wayne Steger of DePaul University in Chicago.
It seems eons since the late Republican president Ronald Reagan, while running for California governor in 1966, spoke of an 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”
Hogan has said he considers Reagan an exemplar of an elected leader and has contrasted Trump’s bluster with Reagan’s more tempered approach.
The identify of Maryland’s Republican Party seems elusive.
It could be represented by longtime Trump supporters Nicolee Ambrose, Maryland’s Republican national committeewoman, and Tom Kennedy, a leader of the Baltimore City Republican Central Committee. Both strongly opposed impeachment.
Or it might rest with Hogan or Maryland’s lieutenant governor Boyd Rutherford — who on the day of the Capitol violence tweeted that Trump had committed an “impeachable offense to incite violence.”
Kennedy, a pledged Trump delegate to the 2020 Republican Convention, says millions of Americans believe the electoral process is “corrupt.” In an email interview Monday with The Baltimore Sun, he said Trump’s actions before the Capitol melee amounted to encouraging supporters to “exercise their right as Americans to express their political opinions, which is absolutely protected speech under the Constitution.”
Hogan, on the other hand, says that Trump told voters “lies and conspiracy theories” and that “America would be better off if the president would resign or be removed from office.”
The governor refers to Trump’s relationship with the GOP as a “hostile takeover” and says the national party will need some fixing to “make sure we go in a direction where we can actually have a healthy and competitive two-party system in America.”
Hogan’s political leanings are much closer to Republicans such as Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who regularly excoriates Trump on MSNBC, than to state party officials. Steele endorsed Biden. So did Connie Morella and Wayne Gilchrest, Maryland Republicans who served for years in the U.S. House. Gilchrest became a Democrat in 2019.
Hogan didn’t endorse Trump or Biden, casting a symbolic write-in vote for Reagan. In 2016 he voted for his father, a former Republican congressman who supported the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Hogan has said he would consider a 2024 presidential candidacy, and has formed a national advocacy organization called “An America United” focusing on ending partisan divisions.
“There seems to almost be two brands — the Maryland Republicans and Larry Hogan,” said David Lublin, chair of the government department at American University in Washington. “He is increasingly identified separately from the Republicans.”
Maryland Republican Party chair Dirk Haire did not return messages seeking an interview for this article.
Rutherford, who is considering running for governor in 2022, says Trump supporters don’t represent the state’s GOP core.
“The governor and I are closer to the establishment. Some people take ‘establishment’ as a pejorative, but I think we are more at the Republican center and more a traditional alignment of Republicans.”
Trump, Rutherford said, “took advantage of the Republican Party, duped, I would say, a lot of people in the Republican Party, and used it to get his way. I don’t think he cares at all about the party.”
Glassman says he too is considering running for governor, but that he’s also looking at a run for state comptroller — or for Harris’ U.S. House seat in a 2022 Republican primary.
Like Hogan, whom he generally supports, Glassman said the GOP should dial down the rhetoric and not “fall into this national tug of war about who is a Republican, and the name calling and the bomb throwing. If you represent some reasonableness and are in the center, and are not 100% one way or other, all of a sudden there are efforts to tear you down and split the party and so forth.”
Rutherford said he believes that GOP infighting will calm after Trump leaves office and that there will come a time — although not immediately — where there is more common ground among the party faithful.
Trump is not the only factor in Maryland GOP’s divide. It’s also the result, political scientists say, of an urban-suburban versus rural split.
Democrats maintain a better than 2-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in Maryland. And that margin has increased over the past 20 years as the population grows in suburban Democratic strongholds such as Howard, Frederick and Montgomery counties.
The volume of Democratic voters means Republicans adopting far-right positions probably can’t win statewide elections, said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.
Candidates running more regional or localized races, such as for Congress, are more likely to support Trump, particularly if their district contains heavily rural sections where the president has drawn the most support.
Harris’ district, for example, looks very different from the state as a whole. The district — made up of the Eastern Shore, plus portions of Carroll, Harford and Baltimore counties — is full of communities in which Trump rolled up large margins in 2020, even though he lost the state. The Democratic-controlled General Assembly packed the district with Republican voters after the 2010 Census to maximize Democrats’ chances in the state’s other seven congressional districts.
It all means Hogan and Harris have starkly different constituencies.
“We have Hogan elected statewide in a blue state,” Hartley said, “versus an elected representative in a district drawn to be heavily Republican.
“So, the ideological pressures on Hogan and Harris are very different, and the bases are very different, too.”
The day after the Capitol attack, the Maryland Democratic Party called on Harris to resign. It called him a “disgrace” to the state and said he and other Republican members of Congress who encouraged overturning the election were complicit in the occupation of the Capitol.
Hogan told CNN last weekend: “I’m not sure what Congressman Harris should do, but I was extremely outraged at some of the things he did and said.”
Neither Harris nor spokesman Walter Smoloski returned calls seeking comment for this article.
But Harris, on WCBM-AM in Baltimore on Monday, said his constituents have been thanking him “for standing up for the president.”
He said he hadn’t spoken to Hogan in a year or two.
“The bottom line is that he and I are going to disagree on some things,” the congressman said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article