Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sounds, to all the world, like a man ready to run for president in 2024.
“I’m concerned about the direction of the party and the country,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “And I’ll make a decision about 2024 after I finish this job.”
While things do change – and Hogan made clear that he won’t turn to seriously considering the Republican presidential primary race until he finishes out his second term as governor in January 2023 – it does seem likely that he will run for the Oval Office in two years’ time.
A few things are true about that race:
1) Former President Donald Trump is very likely to run again.
2) Trump is an overwhelming favorite to be the GOP nominee if he runs.
3) Hogan is smart and is well aware of both #1 and #2.
Which raises this question: Why run at all?
The answer is, I think, that Hogan is after something more than just running a decidedly uphill primary race against the former President. He is trying to represent a place where the resistance to the Trump cult of personality can congregate, in hopes of preserving a more traditional view of conservatism than the former President’s wild populism.
“We want to make sure that we do stand up and speak out,” Hogan told Tapper. “But I’m concerned that they’re focusing too much on looking at the past and trying to relitigate the last election and arguing about things instead of having a positive, hopeful vision for America.”
To be clear: Those Republicans uninterested in falling in line behind Trump – and his outrageous and false claims that the 2020 election was stolen – are not a majority of the current party. In a CNN poll released over the weekend, 54% of Republicans and 55% of self-identified conservatives said they preferred Trump as the party nominee in 2024. That number soared to 64% among those who said that President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 was not “legitimate.”
And, again, Hogan knows this. Even among Republican-aligned voters in the CNN poll who say they would prefer a candidate other than Trump as the 2024 GOP nominee, the next top choice is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He has tried to position himself as someone who could promote Trumpism (anti-“woke,” pro-personal freedom) without Trump. No other alternative GOP candidate to Trump got more than 1% in the CNN poll.
The simple fact is that this is Trump’s party. And if he isn’t the nominee in 2024 – which would likely only be the case if he chose not to run – the likeliest alternative would be another Trumpist candidate like DeSantis.
But to people who think like Hogan, the entire party capitulating to Trump – as they did in the later stages of the 2016 election and throughout his presidency – would have catastrophic consequences on the long-term health and viability of the Republican Party.
That concern – and urgency – is all over Hogan’s interview with Tapper.
“I believe that there is a pretty large lane of sane Republicans. And they’re looking for a voice,” he said at one point.
“The Republican Party that I want to get back to is the one that believes in freedom and truth, and not one that attacks people who don’t swear 100 percent fealty to the dear leader,” he said at another.
What Hogan is really after is ensuring that there is some semblance of a Republican Party that looks and sounds like the Republican Party if Trump runs and loses (again) in 2024.
No one runs for president unless they can see a path to victory. But Hogan is a smart guy and he knows the odds are long – especially if Trump is in the race. He would be running as much to preserve his vision of the Republican Party as much as he would be to actually win the nomination.