By Len Lazarick
I never believed Gov. Larry Hogan would challenge President Trump for president. I also had a hard time understanding why so many media types – local and national – were taking the prospect seriously.
And then I realized that Hogan himself seemed to be taking the venture seriously, actively stoking the speculation by not laughing it off. Then he went to New Hampshire, and I began to mistrust my own political instincts and judgment about this man I had gotten to know over the past decade.
I thought he was a man of strong, pragmatic ambition with a firm grip of political risks and realities. He had after all run for Congress twice and lost – in 1981 and 1992 — and his father the congressman had run for governor and lost. A life in politics had taught him about victory and defeat.
Ultimately, I was reassured that the stories, the excited speculation, the speeches, and the nondenials were just talk. Hogan was taking none of the other concrete steps a serious candidate needs to take – like fundraising — to run for president, especially against a sitting president who squashes opponents like lawn slugs.
The Post exclusive story
Then on Saturday afternoon came an email from the Washington Post touting a story marked “Post Exclusive.” In it, Hogan tells Robert Costa, a Post political reporter who also hosts the national PBS program “Washington Week”:
“‘I’m not going to be a candidate for president in 2020,” Hogan said in an interview.” Only an hour later did Hogan’s office “announce” what he had already told the Post.
The article included Hogan’s descriptions of the conversations he had with his family last week about the venture.
The story made the front page of the print edition of Sunday’s Post. Hogan’s candidacy was indeed all talk – but for a politician with ambition, talk about people pleading with you to run for president is a wonderful thing, even if he did just get re-elected to his day job of running Maryland’s government.
“I have a commitment to the 6 million people of Maryland and a lot of work to do, things we haven’t completed,” Hogan told Costa.
The reason he was such an appealing prospect for the Republicans who want to dump Trump hadn’t gone away either. Writes Costa:
“Despite bowing out of the 2020 discussion, Hogan said he is not retreating from the national political scene and will continue to engage in the debates that are raging in the Republican Party over its future.
“‘We need to have a bigger tent and find a way to get things done,’ Hogan said. “We need some civility and bipartisanship. Our politics are broken. Washington is broken. But we have a story to tell.’ “
Don’t we now: A Republican governor just elected in one of the nation’s most Democratic states with approval ratings to die for has a story of civility and bipartisanship to tell, even if that bipartisanship amounts to Hogan choosing to fight with the Democrats only over select big issues.
A traditional Republican
Hogan is what Donald Trump never was and doesn’t want to be: a lifelong, traditional, moderate Republican, not a politician like Trump who has abandoned not only his own long-held beliefs but his party’s as well, such as a balanced budget, international cooperation, free trade, and so on.
Instead Hogan will be setting up an organization called An America United.
“I also want to play a major national role in the years ahead, both within my own party and in the path our country takes,” Hogan said in his official statement. “That is why I launched An America United, because I am fed up with the broken and divisive ‘politics as usual’ and know we can do better. We can reject the extremes of both political parties, work to break partisan gridlock, and bring people together to advance bold solutions for all Americans.”
In the Post story:
“Hogan dismissed the suggestion that his new advocacy group, with its national agenda and emphasis on bipartisanship, could be a precursor to an independent presidential campaign against Trump.
“‘No, no, no — it’s not,” Hogan said. “It’s not about a third-party run or anything like that. I’m not hedging my bets.’”
But it might be the seedling of a campaign committee for a run for U.S. Senate when Ben Cardin retires — Hogan ruled this out in a Sun interview — or for president in 2024, much as the organization Change Maryland he created was a prelude to his 2014 run for governor.
On top of this, he probably made President Trump happy for a second or two. By conceding he won’t run, Hogan is also acknowledging that Trump is “da man” in complete control of the Republican Party, Numero Uno in the GOP, not to be challenged.