The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Md. Republicans call for unity as Cox, Peroutka bids inflame rift

GOP announces endorsement from former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., says state party must come together

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a former governor of Maryland, attends a breakfast meeting in Annapolis. (Mary F. Calvert/For The Washington Post)
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Former Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is supporting Del. Dan Cox — a candidate endorsed by former president Donald Trump and labeled a “QAnon whack job” by outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — in Cox’s bid to become Maryland’s next governor.

Ehrlich will serve as an emissary for Cox (R-Frederick) and other GOP candidates, including Michael Peroutka, who has past ties with an extremist group and has argued in support of conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Maryland Republican Party announced.

The pledge, which comes as the party tries to keep the governor’s mansion and to flip the attorney general’s office and down-ballot seats in November, was supposed to be a call for GOP unity. Instead, it highlighted a rift that widened last month when Cox toppled Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s protege, in a primary contest widely viewed as a proxy war between Trump and Hogan, who is weighing a presidential bid.

“The Party looks forward to supporting all of our nominees up and down the ballot, just as the Party supported all of our nominees in all previous cycles,” Chairman Dirk Haire, whose wife, Jessica, is running for Anne Arundel County executive, said in a statement. “This is no time for division — the stakes are too high, and we urge all of our nominees, unsuccessful primary candidates, and their supporters to unify and support all of our Republican candidates on to victory in November.”

Schulz did not name Cox last week in her first statement since the defeat, instead congratulating all GOP nominees while predicting that the party would be unable to keep the governorship.

“We ran a campaign based on the truth … we never lied to Marylanders,” she said on social media. “We respected them enough to know the difference between what is real and what isn’t.”

The continued infighting among Republicans comes as Democrats spent Monday evening rallying behind their gubernatorial nominee, Wes Moore, with spirited words from former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez calling on voters to make history in November by electing Moore, Anthony G. Brown as attorney general and Brooke Lierman as comptroller.

“Trumpism is on the ballot and that’s why we need Wes Moore,” Perez, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee who placed second behind Moore last month, told a cheering crowd in Silver Spring.

Typically, a governor is the symbolic head of the state party. But Hogan’s relationship with party leaders during his tenure has been strained, largely because of his opposition to Trump.

Hogan, who did not vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020, recently told ABC “This Week” that he would not support Cox, who called Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” on Jan. 6, 2021 (he later apologized for his word choice), and fought against the 2020 election results.

“I wouldn’t let him in the governor’s office, let alone work for the governor’s office,” Hogan said.

Wes Moore vs. Dan Cox: A fight for Md. governor that will echo downballot

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) has taken a similar position.

“He was involved in this whole stolen-election fiasco,” Rutherford said in a radio interview, noting that Cox went to the Capitol on the day of the riot. “To believe that this whole thing was stolen from Trump … and then to continue to support that lie is just too far for me.”

Ehrlich, who served in Congress from 1995 to 2003 and then was governor for four years, said he is simply doing what he has always done since he became a Republican: support the GOP ticket. Ehrlich, who would not comment on Hogan’s position, said he stayed out of the primary but was a “happy draftee” when Haire contacted him about taking this position. “We would be having the same conversation if Kelly was the nominee,” he said.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, said Ehrlich’s endorsement of Cox makes sense, given his support for Trump. (Ehrlich said Tuesday that in 2016, he leaned more toward former Ohio governor John Kasich. He backed Trump in 2020.)

But, Eberly said, the announcement “speaks to the thinness of the GOP bench” that party leaders had to “go back two or three decades to find someone with GOP experience to get behind this … and it’s just a reminder that the most popular and most successful Republican in Maryland is not on board with this ticket.”