As he flirts with a 2020 White House run, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has a loaded question for the Trump campaign: “What are you so afraid of?”
Hogan (R), who is being courted by GOP dissidents, is accusing the Republican National Committee of taking “unprecedented” steps to close ranks around President Trump and shield him from potential challengers.
The popular two-term governor said Friday that “he has never seen anything like it,” referring to an RNC resolution declaring the party’s “undivided support” for Trump, as well as reports that some GOP officials in South Carolina are considering scrapping their primary.
“If he has unanimous support and everybody is on board, why shut down the normal process?” Hogan asked in a phone interview. “It’s almost like a hostage situation.”
RNC spokeswoman Cassie Smedile pushed back at Hogan, whose criticism first came in interviews with Politico and other outlets Thursday.
“President Trump doesn’t need any assistance to protect him from primary challengers,” Smedile said in a statement. “He has an unprecedented level of support among Republican voters . . . Any effort to challenge President Trump in a primary is bound to go absolutely nowhere, as Governor Hogan acknowledges.”
Hogan, who has record high approval ratings in heavily Democratic Maryland, has criticized Trump since before the president was elected. But he’s spoken more frequently and in sharper tones in recent weeks about Trump and the direction of the GOP.
Earlier this week, in an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Hogan said Trump acts “irrationally” at times and looks “pretty weak” in the general election. He also questioned the president’s decision to issue an executive order declaring a national emergency over border security.
He is not the only Republican to take aim at the president and those who have protected him. Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld is trying to raise money for a 2020 run, becoming the first high-profile politician to challenge the president from within his own party.
Weld, 73, governed Massachusetts in the 1990s in much the same way Hogan has governed Maryland: as a Republican with conservative fiscal views and moderate social positions. Neither of those attributes has been emphasized by Trump, who has remade the GOP in his own image over the past three years.
Both Weld and Hogan — and other Republicans who have considered running — see the president as nearly undefeatable at this point but nonetheless have called on party leaders and members to stand up to him.
Hogan, who was in Washington attending meetings of the National Governors Association on Friday, said his recent comments have received support from many Republican colleagues, though he declined to name names. Some, he said, are “quietly saying: ‘Hey, I like what you’re saying. I’m glad you are saying it. I can’t say it.’ ”
Two people close to Hogan said he represents a style of Republicanism that is lacking in today’s politics and that he would like to revive. Hogan captured a significant portion of the African American and female vote in November, when he became only the second Republican governor ever reelected in Maryland. Since then, he has made clear that he wants to be a part of the national conversation about how to help move the party forward.
The governor has dramatically broken with the GOP on issues like gun control and immigration. He says he is inspired by his late father, Lawrence Hogan Sr., who represented Maryland in Congress and was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Hogan, who is the incoming chairman of the governors association, will join the group at the White House for dinner Sunday night. He is slated to participate in a regional NGA meeting about business development next month in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucuses, and might meet with voters while he is there, his spokeswoman said.
The governor is also exploring a springtime visit to New Hampshire, where the country’s first primary is held.