The political world is focused on the ever-growing Democratic 2020 field, all jockeying for their chance to beat President Donald Trump next November. But it looks increasingly likely that Trump is going to have to clear a major hurdle before he even gets there: A primary challenge from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Hogan, who was easily reelected in 2018 in one of the most Democratic states in the country, has been mentioned as a potential Trump challenger for a few months now. But on Thursday, two things happened that seem to suggest that this is no idle flirtation for Hogan:
1) Hogan was invited to speak at the “Politics & Eggs” gathering held by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. A spokeswoman for Hogan told the Baltimore Sun that Hogan is interested in attending(!) but no date had been set.
2) In Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting this weekend, Hogan went off on the Republican National Committee for its recent move to curtail the chances of a serious primary challenge to Trump. “Typically they try to be fair arbiters of a process, and I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve been involved in the Republican Party for most of my life. It’s unprecedented,” he told Politico. “And in my opinion it’s not the way we should be going about our politics.” Hogan added: “The question is, what are they afraid of?”
First of all, no politician goes to a “Politics & Eggs” because they just really, really like breakfast food. It’s meant to send a signal that “yeah, I’m thinking seriously about doing this.” Hogan is no dummy – he knows exactly the signal he is sending by making clear that once the Maryland legislative session ends, he’s likely to head to the Granite State.
Second, Hogan’s criticism of the RNC is striking – particularly for a sitting elected official and someone seen, in some circles of the GOP, as the future of the party.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who lost the 2016 primary to Trump, appeared at Hogan’s second inauguration ceremony to offer high praise; “Larry’s at the top of a list of leaders that I admire today because what’s happening here in Annapolis is the antithesis of what’s happening in Washington, DC, these days,” Bush said. Mark Salter, longtime aide to the late Sen. John McCain, told CNN earlier this month that GOP governors like Hogan “will be the future of the party if it has a future.”
Taken together, those two events on Thursday suggest that Hogan is putting the preliminary pieces in place to run against Trump if the incumbent looks weak enough that a) he can be beaten in a primary and/or b) he cannot win the general election.
As I detailed earlier this week, neither of those things are true of Trump yet. He remains very popular with the broad base of the Republican Party, and while he isn’t in the strongest shape for a general election fight neither can he be considered dead on arrival in that race either.
Hogan is aware of those political realities – as he acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday. “My goal is not to just make the incumbent president lose in the general election,” Hogan said. “I’m not going to do that. If they’re looking for someone just to be a spoiler or to throw myself on a grenade to help someone else, that’s not me. Somebody else might be motivated that way. But I’ve got a state to run.”
All true! And at the moment, beating Trump in a primary is extremely unlikely. But there’s no doubt from his words and his actions of late that Hogan isn’t moving further from the possibility of a primary. He’s moving closer to a bid.
And never forget this: Hogan’s father, as a Republican member of Congress from Maryland in the 1970s, was the first GOPer on the House Judiciary Committee to call for Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Hogan, in his second inaugural address, quoted his father’s take on political principles:
“‘Party loyalty,’ he said, ‘and personal affection and precedents of the past must fall before the arbiter of men’s actions: the law itself. No man, not even the president of the United States, is above the law. For our system of justice and our system of government to survive, we must pledge our highest allegiance to the strength of the law and not to the common frailties of man.’”
If you can’t read in between the lines there, it’s time to get new glasses.