“The vitriol that I’ve seen — he’s being made fun of,” said political scientist Todd Eberly, a professor at St. Mary’s College who studies polarization and presidential politics. “It’s become a national joke that he voted for Reagan.”
Hogan, a Republican twice elected in a deeply Democratic state, is among a handful of prominent GOP officeholders to publicly refuse to vote for Trump’s reelection. Two others — Govs. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Phil Scott of Vermont — have declined to say whom they would select instead.
Hogan told The Washington Post on Thursday that he wrote in Reagan because his long-dead political idol represents the type of Republican he would like to see in office. But Republicans have not leaped to defend his choice.
Some in the party who are openly pushing for Trump’s defeat said they were disappointed that Hogan — who has broken with Trump over the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the environment, immigration enforcement and the president’s divisive rhetoric — couldn’t bring himself to support Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“The action didn’t meet the moment,” said Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project. Schmidt on Monday tweeted a photo of his ballot selection for Biden.
“I wish that Larry Hogan would have led here,” Schmidt said. “He knows how dangerous Trump has been. . . . At the end of day, there are two choices: Biden or Trump.”
On Monday, Hogan toured Maryland’s Eastern Shore, one of the state’s few conservative strongholds, and brushed off the criticism, saying he believes many Americans share his disappointment with both major-party candidates.
“It’s somewhat, obviously, symbolic,” Hogan said at the family-owned Cherry Lane Farm. “My vote is not going to change any outcomes in our 10 electoral votes.”
Biden leads Trump by 30 points in Maryland, according to a recent Goucher College poll. The state has backed a Republican for the White House just three times in the past 60 years — once when Reagan won a second term in 1984.
Hogan declined to say how he would have voted if he lived in a swing state, or offer advice to voters who do: “I’m not going to speculate . . . because I’m not moving to any other state.”
Conservative political commentator Bill Kristol, who encouraged Hogan last year to launch a primary challenge to Trump, said he’s voting for Biden and called Hogan’s choice “a little too cute by half.” And Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair and former lieutenant governor of Maryland, announced Tuesday that he was voting for Biden “because I’m an American first.”
Steele, a Hogan booster, said it’s easier for politicians who are out of office to break with the party. The governor’s vote, he said, was still significant.
“Let’s not get caught up on the fact he’s writing in someone’s name,” Steele said. “It’s a ticklish position when you’re in the job.”
But for others, especially Democrats in Maryland who have viewed Hogan favorably, the decision to elevate Reagan, in particular, stung.
“I never expected him to cast a vote for Biden. I was shocked that he voted for Ronald Reagan,” said Kaye Whitehead, a professor who teaches African American history at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. “He could have chosen a number of other dead people to lift up.”
Whitehead said people in Maryland generally “felt like [Hogan] worked in the interest of everybody,” but aligning himself with Reagan called that into question for her. Under Reagan, Black poverty rates remained at least three times that of White people, Black median incomes remained roughly half that of White families, and Black people were disproportionately locked up for drug crimes. Last year, newly revealed tape recordings showed that in 1971, Reagan, then the governor of California, referred to Africans as “monkeys” in a call with President Richard Nixon.
“We don’t look back with fondness and a sense of nostalgia to the Reagan era,” Whitehead said.
Maryland House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (Anne Arundel), one of the state’s highest-ranking Republicans, declined to offer his view on Hogan’s write-in vote. “It’s a free country,” he said.
Hogan’s advisers played down the significance of the backlash, saying it would not dent the governor’s persistently high approval ratings among Democrats and independents, which outside observers see as critical to him laying the groundwork for a potential 2024 White House bid.
“The majority of this angst exists in the liberal-progressive Twitter sphere,” said Doug Mayer, a Republican strategist and former Hogan aide. “Being in the middle — sometimes it means you get hit on both sides of your face. It builds character, and the governor has shown a consistent willingness to do that over the years.”
But Democrats said they were puzzled that Hogan was unwilling to vote for someone outside his party, especially when he has repeatedly preached bipartisanship and wooed Maryland Democrats to vote for him in a state where they outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
“It really threw me off. I figured his distaste or worse of Trump would compel him to vote for Biden instead of wasting it on Ronald Reagan,” Kenny Charney, a Democrat and Hogan admirer from rural Carroll County, wrote in an email.
“Why he would be so opposed to Biden that he would think ‘sending a message’ would be more important? It seems foolish, especially given his animosity toward Trump, that he would not want to add his vote for Biden.”
And in a Baltimore Sun editorial published Monday, the paper, which endorsed Hogan in 2018 and Biden this year, sharply criticized the governor for effectively throwing away his vote.
“What voting for a deceased man principally demonstrates is that Maryland’s governor doesn’t take the obligation of voting seriously,” the paper wrote.
Hogan spent Monday chatting with farmers and watermen who support him. If they were disappointed about the governor’s vote, it was because he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump.
“I don’t think it was a good idea, but I understood why he did it,” said David Andrews, 62, a Republican farmer from Hurlock, a town of 2,000. Andrews said he trusts Trump more than Biden because the president has not spent his career in politics.
But he was also forgiving, saying that he understands the line Hogan has to walk in the Democratic state and that he viewed the vote for Reagan as an attempt to please both sides.
“You get between a rock and a hard place,” Andrews said.
Bill Massey, another Trump supporter, was also understanding, shrugging and chuckling about Hogan’s vote for Reagan.
“It was more of a ‘no’ vote than a vote,” said Massey, who owns a 100-acre farm and works in the poultry industry. He said he plans to vote for Trump because he is worried Biden will take the country too far to the left.
At Hogan’s next stop, he met with watermen in Cambridge and helped unload crabs from a boat flying a “Trump, Keep America Great” flag.
Mark Robinson, a waterman who arrived at the dock shortly after Hogan, describes himself as a political independent but said that he, too, will be voting for Trump. He said he is very worried about the possibility of unrest after the election, regardless of who wins.
But Hogan’s vote for Reagan did not bother Robinson: “That’s his preference,” he said. “We have to let people choose their own battles.”
Chason reported from the Eastern Shore.