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Larry Hogan Is Already Running for President

The Maryland governor has released what is essentially a 2024 announcement video. He cuts a moderate figure, but he has some radical bedfellows.

“1980,” intones Larry Hogan, the Maryland governor. “Just four years after the predicted demise of the GOP. [Four years later] Reagan led our party to one of the largest landslides in American history. And then went on to truly make America great again.”

It’s the new video out from — if polling is still to count for much — one of America’s most popular politicians. “We are once again at a time for choosing,” Hogan says. “Are we going to be a party that can’t win national elections— or are willing to do the hard work of building a durable coalition that can shape our nation’s destiny?” 

Hogan notes: “No one will listen to our message, if they don’t believe we are listening to them.”

It’s reasonable enough stuff, on the face of it.  After the dashed re-election hopes of outgoing President Donald Trump, the Republican Party will again forfeit the White House after four years in power. Presidential races, whatever caterwauling persists surrounding this past election, are winner-take-all affairs. And Joe Biden is our next president. Winners govern and losers self-reflect. 

We have, of course, been here before. Following the shock (for most of the right, anyway) defeat of Mitt Romney eight years ago, Reince Priebus, then the Republican National Committee chair, commissioned the “Growth and Opportunity Project.” It became known as “the autopsy.” Its chapter titles were outright Hoganist— “Some People Say, ‘Republicans Don’t Care’” and “America looks different.”

Some Republicans certainly “don’t care” and America assuredly looks different (day-by-day, year-on-year), though it’s unclear who doesn’t know that. But for some, this is just copy-scanner de ja vu. Hogan sees his path clearly: he has done a fine job governing a powerful state (though he’s running into some recent scandal), his party has to sing a different song next go ‘round, and with a first generation American spouse (Yumi Hogan) by his side, he’s got the personal story to lead Republicans and the nation to “the way forward,” the last chapter of the autopsy. 

But we’ve seen this film before, too. Back when a certain New York mogul was getting punked in Buzzfeed and polling behind Rand Paul even with near-universal name recognition, Former Governor Jeb Bush (and certainly those who gave him over a hundred million dollars) thought the horizon was clear, with his record from Florida in his right hand, and his wife, Colomba, in his left. A tone of seriousness would fill in the gaps; lectures would bring crowds to their feet.

Trump, of course, went on to clean up with those who stayed far away from the professor halls, embarrassing the scion of the most powerful dynasty in American history (measured by years in 1600 Penn, anyway). Hogan too is the progeny of power, Old Line State-style anyway. Lawrence Hogan, Sr. was a Maryland Congressman and later executive of Prince George’s County. Hogan, Sr., in a foreshadowing of his son’s own choices, was the first GOP member of the House Judiciary Committee, to demand the impeachment of Richard Nixon; Hogan would back the same approach four decades later, for Trump. 

After a peripatetic career in real estate, and it’s not the most clear what else, Hogan, Jr., hit his stride last decade, founding the influential “Change Maryland” in 2011, and then changing it himself, as governor-elect three years later. In addition to the Trump impeachment (which I remind the reader, the record shows evidently happened this year), Hogan has lashed the White House for an allegedly dilettante national response to COVID-19 (with a conspicuous lack of clarity on what he would have really done differently from the president that backed the first national lockdown), among all manner of policy disagreements with the administration of “America First.” 

But Hogan, himself, wants the GOP to be a big tent party. So, perhaps his chances of succeeding Trump, in a way, are stealthily underrated. This would, of course, be to the chagrin of some on the populist right seeking to reform the party firmly in the 45th’s president’s image— if not to make Trump the 47th president in some time. Hogan’s pedigree is from a time when Republicans sported actual liberals. But lest we forget Trump and his family’s Democratic past, or his advocacy against “free trade,” once considered essentially cross-dressing in the GOP, even if your name was that of a co-founder of this magazine. 

Squint hard enough and it’s not hard to see Hogan doing reasonably well, easily clearing the dreadful bar set by the last native son of Washington to seek the White House, that is, Hogan’s predecessor in Annapolis, former governor Martin O’Malley. But it will take more than single digit showings in Iowa and New Hampshire to truly live up to Maryland’s reputation for a politics of small state ruthlessness, earned from Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus to ward off secession, the mean streets of Baltimore and even O’Malley’s dramatization as Tommy Carcetti on The Wire. 

Putting aside the reality of a presidential field likely to be the size of an early caucus state, Hogan’s path to power could run into two, real problems that have little, officially, to do with his cantankerous relationship with the outgoing president. First, if Hogan wants a more diverse, nationally competitive party, his most relevant model is not from the 1980’s or his father’s heyday in the 1970’s. Trump’s winning coalition from 2016 war pilloried as the stuff of white nationalism (or certainly baby boomer nationalism), but Trump in defeat this year, actually lost ground with whites and older voters, while gaining with Hispanics, Asians, those who practice Islam and in the year of Black Lives Matter, even African-Americas. 

This new reality helped stave off humiliation for the commander-in-chief in the popular vote and kept the game close enough in new economy states like Nevada (these days considered a Democratic stronghold) to intrigue the conspiracy theorists. Trump got more votes in California than any Republican in American history. Plus, Hogan could theoretically benefit from Trump attempting an encore in a few years’ time— it could crowd out alumni from this White House, like Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, with whom Hogan will cross-pollinate for dollars. Trump’s entry would also likely shrink the field, and with it perhaps some of his more charismatic adjacents, such as Tucker Carlson (a member of this magazine’s advisory board). And at seventy-eight, Trump just might not have it (to say nothing of the coming cyclone of financial and legal woes set to hit him). 

But Hogan’s new ad implies an utterly clean break with Trumpism. It’s an understandable move for a certain kind of Republican, the Beltway Republican, the polite Republican, but taken in full, this approach could obscure that the reality that the 2020 autopsy has already been written. If all that’s under consideration is a will to power, or less selfishly, that America is said to look different, Trump just laid out a playbook, however inartfully, of criticizing the excesses of America’s left. And for a figure like Hogan, already viewed with suspicion by the party rank-and-file, it would seem to behoove him to be more political artist than arsonist. 

Second, to the extent that anyone knows Hogan’s national policy views (governors, in particular, are usually light in the foreign policy department), it reflects the reality of the anti-Trump Republican Party in the Trump years. He’s chummy with neoconservatives. He’s been touted by William Kristol, founder of the defunct The Weekly Standard. His boosters include Max Boot, though Boot thinks his bete noire, Carlson, has a far better chance in 2024. It would be interesting move to hire counsel who think you’re going to lose. 

At the risk of beating the Jeb(!) metaphor to death, it’s worth noting that it was not Trump that caused the wheels of that campaign to come off in 2015. It was Iraq, the war Governor Bush’s brother initiated, and intellectuals such as Kristol and Boot glorified. What passes for the “moderate” wing of the Republican Party is so often its “national security” wing, or its extremist wing, if we accept the judgement of the American people, namely its soldiers, that hold that the last twenty years of foreign policy were greatly mistaken.     

Hogan, like Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Phil Scott in Vermont and before that, his friend Chris Christie in New Jersey, has shown how to win statewide power in ocean blue jurisdictions. What happened in the Northeast may yet be a precursor to whatever is going on in the Golden State

But, at the presidential level, Larry Hogan likely has work to do — work he certainly could do — to show he’s not just another hopeless political retread, in a nation obviously desperate for results. 

(Correction: an earlier version of this post described Larry Hogan, Sr. as part of the Republican Party’s liberal old guard. But given his views on social issues — Hogan, Sr. was antiabortion — that wasn’t a fair assessment.)