Thomas Wright: We’ve now entered the final phase of the Trump era
But figures like Hogan have a history of attracting more column inches than votes in Republican presidential primaries. (See: John Kasich, Jon Huntsman, assorted other Jo(h)ns.) What makes him an interesting case study is not his moderation, but how he’s positioned himself in opposition to a deeply unpopular incumbent who will—win or lose—remain a noisy force in conservative politics. The logic of a Hogan candidacy is premised on the idea that when Trump leaves office, Trumpism will leave with him. There’s reason to be skeptical.
For much of our interview, Hogan seemed as if he were playing a game of political-aphorism bingo. He spoke of his desire to build a “big tent” party. He explained that “successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.” When we got too far into the conversation without mentioning his presidential ambitions, he proactively offered a nonanswer to my nonquestion: “People ask me what my plans are for the future. I say, ‘I’m not that concerned about what my future is in the Republican Party, but I’m really concerned about having a future for the Republican Party.’”
Hogan did not vote for Trump in 2016, and publicly considered running against the president in 2020 before ultimately bowing out. He clearly believes the current administration has damaged his party, and he’s happy to run through some of the low points. (Thus we arrive at the “Republican speaks out!” portion of the conversation.) He voiced support for the Trump impeachment hearings, and in 2018 he called back Maryland’s National Guard unit from the southern border in protest of Trump’s child-separation policy.
Hogan’s bluntest disapproval is reserved for Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. By refusing to take the threat seriously early on, he argues, the president severely hampered the government’s response. “We got behind in the beginning and let the virus get out of hand,” he told me. “The president downplaying the virus and saying things like it was going to disappear or it was just the sniffles—the messaging was all wrong.”
He also expressed frustration with Trump’s incendiary response to this summer’s anti-racist protests. “I don’t think the president is helping with that discussion at all,” he told me, adding, “The Republican Party is certainly having a hard time adding anything.”
Read: Why Republicans still can’t quit Trump
These critiques may not be particularly incisive or original, but Hogan’s admirers give him credit for stating the obvious. There are, after all, only so many interesting things to say about a naked emperor.
Besides, his purpose in bringing up these presidential failures is to contrast them with his own record in Maryland, where his approval rating currently hovers just below 80 percent, thanks to unusually strong support from Democrats and Black voters. In his book and in interviews, Hogan frames his governorship as a model of competence and common sense. While other states struggle to combat the virus, his aggressive public-health response—including the purchase, earlier this year, of 500,000 tests from South Korea—has drawn national plaudits. And as major cities continue to face unrest, Hogan has pointed to his own handling of the 2015 protests following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody as an example of respecting peaceful demonstrations while cracking down on riots. “I don’t want to sound like I’m plugging my book,” he told me, “but I would suggest people read my book and how we handled the situation in Baltimore.”