OCEAN CITY, Md. — Maryland’s popular Republican governor further distanced himself from President Trump on Thursday, saying that the president has not shown the kind of leadership the country needs following the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
“I thought he did a really bad job responding to it,” Gov. Larry Hogan said of Trump’s comments in recent days. “It wasn’t presidential.”
Trump tweeted on Thursday that it was “foolish” to remove from public grounds statues of historical figures who, for many, represent a legacy of slavery and racism. Removing Confederate statues, he argued, meant that the history and culture of the country was being “ripped apart.”
Hogan, in contrast, declared this week that it was time to remove a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from the State House grounds in Annapolis. Taney wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision, which said that black people could not be U.S. citizens and had no rights other than those that white people gave them.
Asked about Trump’s tweets, Hogan, who is on the Eastern Shore for the annual convention of the Maryland Association of Counties, said, “I think he probably should stop talking about the issue because not very many people are agreeing with him these days.”
The governor, who declined to vote for Trump in 2016, has maintained sky-high approval ratings in heavily Democratic Maryland, in part by avoiding controversial social issues.
He was treated almost like a rock star during his tour of the exhibition hall at the convention, where many of the Democrats vying for the nomination to challenge him in 2018 also plan to press palms and network.
Hogan spent nearly two hours hugging state employees at vendor booths, calling some by name, and posing for photo after photo. “You’re looking good,” one man shouted. Hogan, who survived a bout with cancer in 2015 and has been shedding pounds as he gears up for running for reelection, grinned.
The decision to remove the Taney statue, which a state panel voted to do on Wednesday, was a reversal for the governor, who said two years ago that efforts to get rid of symbols that represent the country’s Confederate past were “political correctness run amok.”
On Thursday, two 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidates released a Facebook video comparing Hogan’s 2015 comments to Trump’s question this week: “Where does it stop?”
The president suggested that taking down statues of Confederate heroes was akin to removing memorials to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves but neither of whom led a revolt against the nation.
Two years ago, Hogan supported recalling Maryland’s “Sons of Confederate Veterans” license plates. But he said he had “no interest” in removing Taney’s statue or renaming the football stadium at the University of Maryland, which at the time honored Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd, president of the state university from 1936 to 1954 and an ardent segregationist who barred black students from enrolling until forced to do so by court order.
“Where do we stop?” Hogan said in a 2015 interview. “Do we get rid of the George Washington statues out here and take down all the pictures from all the people from the Colonial era that were slave owners?”
Hogan said Thursday that he changed his mind about the Taney statue after he saw images of white supremacists in Charlottesville chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. One participant allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32. “I was shocked and outraged by it,” Hogan said.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) on Monday called for the Taney statue to be taken down, and voted Wednesday, along with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) and Maryland Historical Trust Board Chairman Charles L. Edson, to remove it.
The fourth member of the State House Trust board, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), disagreed, saying Thursday that he thought the statue should stay put.
In a letter, he criticized Hogan for a lack of transparency in the decision to remove the monument, noting that the board vote was conducted by email and without public notice or debate. The panel typically votes by email but rarely deals with potentially controversial issues.
Hogan said the statue had taken on a whole new meaning in the wake of the rally and rhetoric by white supremacists and was no longer appropriate for the State House grounds.
“As I said before, we can’t wipe out all of our history, nor should we try to,” the governor said. “But when it reaches the point where some of these symbols, whether they have historical significance or not, when they become a focal point for racism and violence, then it’s time to do something about it.”
Josh Hicks contributed to this report.