By Len Lazarick
The preparations for this weekend’s Maryland Republican Convention are in place. The firing squad for the party leaders has been forming its circle, armed with hot-air popguns. The lynch mob for party chairman Alex Mooney has bought a bungee cord.
All is normal for a party that has control of local government in half of Maryland’s counties, but gets routinely clobbered at the statewide level. The snarky sniping and angry grumbling are fairly routine.
At the end of the day Saturday, Mooney will still be party chair, because he’s not about to quit under fire, and those seeking his resignation failed to get one of the 250-plus central committee members to announce a motion to fire him 20 days ago, as the bylaws require. And they needed to round up a two-thirds vote to can Mooney and replace him with … well, no one in particular.
Who the heck wants the unpaid job that, for the last four state chairs, has lead inevitably to a public pillorying? (Maryland Juice is reporting on other rumblings this morning.)
Bongino eyes the possibilities
Dan Bongino may have given the job half a thought, but he clearly has bigger fish to fry. The Severna Park resident caught the political bug, despite his big loss to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
Had independent Rob Sobhani, a millionaire lapsed Republican, not spent $6 million of his own money on the U.S. Senate race, Bongino might have gotten 43% of the vote against Democratic incumbent Cardin, instead of just 26%. But Cardin, a liberal Democrat by most standards, would most likely still have gotten 56% of the vote, slightly better than he did six years ago against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, that rare species, a conservative African American.
This election, Cardin spent only $5.4 million of the $6.7 million he raised because Sobhani was outspending Bongino’s measly $1.5 million and splitting what anti-Cardin vote there was.
Bongino, an ex-Secret Service agent for Barack Obama turned GOP candidate, is looking at a lot of potential offices to run for in two years – among them, Anne Arundel county executive and governor.
“I didn’t take a lot of time off,” Bongino said. He’s been on radio talk shows in Baltimore and Washington, in addition to working a book deal about his compelling life story and a revival of his security consulting business. But he says he’s turned down lucrative job offers “because they would have boxed me in,” preventing him from political pursuits.
“I love the politics,” he said, and the first order of business from both a personal and political perspective is how to fix the Maryland Republican Party.
Fixing the GOP
“Long term, we have got to get back the governor’s mansion,” Bongino said. “We have got to get the state back to fair redistricting” after the next Census, to win Republican seats in the legislature and Congress. Surprisingly, Bongino said he’s got money left over from the final days of his campaign, and wants to help candidates gain some of those seats.
Short term for the GOP, “we’re just not organized right now. We have a diverse group of activist organizations, but not everybody’s reading from the same sheet of music,” the way the Democratic organization is.
Bongino was particularly miffed that Maryland Republican volunteers were being sent to swing states such as Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania to campaign for Mitt Romney, rather than to work at home. “The reinforcements should have come from [Red states like] Kentucky,” he said.
“I don’t think that there was any question that Barack Obama was going to win Maryland,” Bongino said. “But we need to be at least competitive here in statewide races. If Obama had won by only five to eight points here, that would have been an earthquake.”
By sending Republican troops elsewhere, “there was a message that was not so quietly sent: ‘You’re in this on your own.’ ” And the hidden damage included his own experience of donors scaling back contributions because the state and national party organizations were not backing him to the hilt.
Bongino grew up poor in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised by a single mom – “baloney and Cheerios for dinner,” he would say-- and eventually became a New York cop then a Secret Service agent on the presidential security detail, protecting both George W. Bush and Obama. Along the way he picked up bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and an MBA.
His impressive personal accomplishments and his articulate and passionate conservatism got him a lot of national cable TV time, especially on Fox News, where he was regular. (Surprisingly, Cardin’s No. 2 group of contributors were the executives and the political action committee of News Corp., which owns Fox and the Wall Street Journal.)
He had developed an impressive corps of thousands of volunteers, worked hard for the seat, and he was top vote-getter among 346 respondents in an unscientific, online Red Maryland poll last week on the governor's race. But he just doesn’t fit the profile of Republicans who have won statewide in Maryland.
Thirty-six years ago, when almost half the state’s current population had not even been born, two Republican U.S. senators represented the state, Charles Mac Mathias and J. Glenn Beall. In the 20 years before that, there had also been two Republican governors, Spiro Agnew and Theodore McKeldin.
These Republicans got elected to statewide office under different circumstances in different times, but they all had one thing in common. By today’s political standards, they would all be considered moderates and, for their day, Mathias and McKeldin were actually liberals in a state where lots of the Democrats were conservative.
The Republican Party these guys belonged to is no more. The national Republican Party has grown more conservative under the influence of Ronald Reagan, and the Democrats have grown more liberal.
By today’s Republican standards, the most recent Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, was also a moderate. Not only was he pro-choice while the right of his party was adamantly pro-life, he also believed government had a role to play. For instance, on the environment, he championed the flush tax to help restore the Chesapeake Bay. Had Ehrlich been more flexible and astute in managing the Democrat-dominated legislature, he might have gained a second term, but he also lost it partly because his base was upset over the flush tax, excessive spending and other issues.
Conservatives don’t do well in Maryland
The point is simply this: Conservative Republicans have never in recent history done very well running for statewide office in Maryland, so the results of the November election are hardly a surprise.
There is a strong right wing of the party that insists the state GOP not give up its conservative principles of small government, low taxes and traditional social mores. Don’t dilute the message and become RINOs (Republicans in name only), as were former U.S. Reps Connie Morella and Wayne Gilchrist, they maintain. Persuade Democrats of the error of their ways, and not follow them.
The demographics trending against Republicans nationally are even more pronounced in Maryland. According to the 2010 Census, Maryland’s population was 54% non-Hispanic white, compared to 63% nationally. Probably by 2020 or even before, as the Latino population grows, Maryland, which already has the highest percentage of African Americans outside the Deep South (30%), will be a majority minority as its two largest counties, Montgomery and Prince George’s, already are.
Many Republicans would disagree with this analysis. But winning elections is fundamentally a numbers game, and the numbers in Maryland are not trending Republican in any way.
The evidence is hard to miss. In two of the largest Republican-controlled swing counties – Anne Arundel and Frederick – voters narrowly approved same-sex marriage and overwhelmingly supported the congressional gerrymandering that screwed the GOP; tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants lost by only narrow margins. Partly leaders had strongly opposed all three ballot questions, but did little to block their victory.