Destroying a national party, too

The moment Martin O’Malley ducked the TEA Party wave in 2010 and won re-election – in no small part thanks to a rematch of the 2006 race for Maryland governor against the moderate Bob Ehrlich – the conventional wisdom knew MOM was pointing toward a 2016 race for the White House. So in term number two O’Malley worked on burnishing his far-left credentials for a national run, getting gay marriage and in-state tuition for illegal aliens passed in the General Assembly and leading enough to see repeal efforts for both fail at the ballot box. The state was also on the receiving end of an offshore wind boondoggle O’Malley pushed through the Maryland General Assembly, making it certain he was checking all the progressive boxes for a 2016 Presidential bid. Even the prospect of an all but gift-wrapped U.S. Senate seat thanks to the impending retirement of longtime Senator Barb Mikulski couldn’t deter O’Malley from his goal.

But a funny thing happened to Martin in 2014: the conventional wisdom that he would be a witness to Maryland history by being the first governor to have his lieutenant governor succeed him – as a bonus, checking off another Democrat box by making Anthony Brown Maryland’s first black governor – was tossed out the window when Republican Larry Hogan took three years of constant criticism of MOM’s tax-and-spend record via the Change Maryland organization and parlayed it into his election as Maryland’s 62nd governor. Granted, Anthony Brown ran a campaign as uninspiring as his name, but the criticism of O’Malley’s record was so fierce – and the national Democrat skids so greased for Hillary Clinton – that O’Malley was barely a cipher in the 2016 race for the White House. And even with every Democrat and his or her brother or sister jumping into the 2020 race for the Oval Office, MOM has already taken a pass on it.

On the other hand, Larry Hogan came into office with a broad fiscally conservative agenda. To the extent he could lower tolls and redirect transportation money away from the black hole of Baltimore’s Red Line and toward actual fixing of highways, Hogan was a hero to Republicans. But over time he lost conservative support by compromising too much on items like the hated Phosphorus Management Tool, being squishy at best on the Second Amendment (a sore issue for 2A backers thanks to another MOM initiative, the so-called Firearm Safety Act), reneging on a pledge to overturn an O’Malley fracking ban, and flip-flopping on retaining the Roger Taney statue that once stood at the State House until being removed in the dead of night, among many other reasons.

Yet despite the loss of conservative support, Hogan was all but assured re-election when a plurality of Democrats chose onetime NAACP head Ben Jealous from a crowded primary field to oppose him in 2018. Hogan had already dodged his first bullet when Congressman John Delaney declined a bid for governor (or a surefire re-election to Congress) for a quixotic Presidential run – announcing his intentions in mid-2017 when absolutely no one save hardcore political junkies was paying attention – so the far-left loonies sticking together and selecting Jealous for 2018 was the break Hogan needed to secure perhaps even 1/3 of the Democrat vote to go with his 90-plus percent of Republicans and well over half of independents.

But you would think that, with a comfortable 11-point victory, the Hogan coattails would be quite long. Instead, his were tucked in because Republicans lost a net of seven seats in the General Assembly. While their ranks in the Senate swelled a slight bit from 14 to 15, it was far short of the ballyhooed “drive for five” the Maryland GOP sought to give Hogan veto protection. Meanwhile, the House elections were a disaster as the GOP ranks plunged from 50 to 42, with the carnage particularly severe in suburban areas around Annapolis and Baltimore. Several good Delegates were shown the door thanks to the additional Democrat turnout, as those voters only circled one GOP oval for Hogan. This trend also doomed the already uphill battles of good Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and Attorney General (Tony Campbell and Craig Wolf, respectively) who Hogan rarely failed to ignore on his campaign trail.

This was nothing new for Hogan, though. A vocal critic and opponent of the Trump administration, Larry famously admitted writing in his dad’s name for President in 2016 instead of voting for the GOP nominee. But even as Trump has proven to be something of a miracle worker on the economy and not been the disaster feared by many on other fronts, Hogan hasn’t been a cheerleader. While the signs of a 2020 Presidential run weren’t as blatantly obvious, certainly there are some out there who knew Hogan either already had a bigger position in mind or could be swayed into making a bid based on the theory that he’s a compromising, work-across-the-aisle-for-the-common-good governor in a blue state. After all, he already had the SuperPAC.

It’s been a couple weeks now, but as a headliner for a New Hampshire event considered a ritual for presidential wannabes, Hogan said the following.

“Here in New Hampshire, for example, they like to be independent, they like to look at the candidates and kick the tires and meet people one-on-one. I’m pretty good at retail politics. That’s how I won my state with no money,” Hogan said during a subsequent news conference with reporters, prior to heading to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper for an editorial board interview and meeting with the publisher.

“There are, I think, 23 states that have open primaries of one sort or another, so independents and Democrats can cross over and vote,” he said.

“Larry Hogan edges toward 2020 challenge to Trump: ‘I’m taking it more seriously'”, David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner, April 23, 2019.

To win the Republican nomination it appears Hogan is counting on non-Republican votes. Sound familiar? It should, since in early 2016 there was always the question of how many Democrats were trying for their own “Operation Chaos” by voting for Trump in open-primary states, knowing that they would vote in November for Hillary Clinton.

Hogan’s New Hampshire appearance drew scads of local interest in both Maryland and the Granite State, as one may expect. But did it bear fruit?

Last week we found out a little bit. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll drew the most attention for placing Joe Biden atop the Democrat field in one of the first major polls since he declared (more on Biden in an upcoming post), but it also surveyed the GOP race as a somewhat hypothetical one between President Trump and three governors (two former, one current): Hogan, 2016 GOP also-ran John Kasich of Ohio, and 2016 Libertarian VP candidate William Weld, a long-ago governor of Massachusetts.

In the poll, which sampled nearly 400 New Hampshire Republicans, Hogan was dead last in the GOP field with exactly 1 vote, which translated to 0.2%. The good news is that he beat two Democrats: another current governor, Jay Inslee, and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel since both had zero. The bad news: two guys who aren’t even in the race yet (Montana governor Steve Bullock and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio) are either tied (de Blasio) or ahead of Hogan. Then again, Larry hasn’t formally declared either and may not until later this year when it’s time to get on primary ballots.

Speaking before that New Hampshire audience, Hogan “called for the Republican Party to appeal to a broader base, operate with civility and govern by consensus.” As the WaPo noted, “The audience included some activists who are thirsting for an intraparty fight.” In and of itself, I really don’t mind a primary fight that much – Trump can take care of himself. But if those were my four choices – well, that primary ballot would be left blank.

And if Hogan is, by some reverse miracle, the Republican nominee that becomes President, it may be the best thing ever for the third-party movement because the Republican Party would be no more. Conservatives would revolt, especially if the Democrats captured the Senate and kept the House, because Larry would be rolled on a national stage even worse than he is in Maryland. Of course, that would be huge for Democrats as their opposition is splintered and they would take the opportunity to consolidate power even further, using the fig leaf of bipartisanship at the times when they needed it.

Granted, the odds of an insurgent campaign defeating an incumbent from a party are quite small: it was last tried on the GOP side by Pat Buchanan in 1992 and Democrat Ted Kennedy made a bid in 1980. While neither came close to succeeding, it can be argued they weakened the incumbent enough to ensure his defeat later on in the general election.

If that’s Larry Hogan’s aim in running for President in 2020, he may as well go ahead and change his affiliation to unaffiliated. (He could still run as a Republican just like Bernie Sanders runs as a Democrat.) As I’m a principle over party guy, I think Larry’s lack of principles and unwillingness to stand up to the far-left opposition in Maryland place him squarely in the unaffiliated camp anyway.

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