That doesn’t sound like someone with much future in the national GOP, given that a Washington Post poll two weeks ago found a solid majority of the party wants to continue to “follow Trump’s leadership.”
But Hogan believes that the recent erosion of Trump’s approval ratings in the GOP — from 85 percent in October to 79 percent this month — suggests that Hogan’s stances are gaining support among Republicans appalled at Trump’s recent behavior, especially his role in inciting the Jan. 6 assault. Hogan hopes the trend will continue and reshape the party, opening the door for him to compete for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
“A lot more people are jumping off the sinking ship and trying to get onto the life raft where I’ve been all along,” said Hogan, a Trump critic since before the 2016 election. He spoke to me last week in a wide-ranging interview in which he described his vision for the GOP going forward and his role in it.
“There’s going to be a fight for the soul of the Republican Party,” Hogan said. “There are an awful lot of people in one lane fighting to take on the mantle of Donald Trump. I would argue that I’m one of the leading voices on the other side to say that we’ve got to move in a completely different direction.”
GOP strategists say Hogan’s anti-Trump posture would be a major obstacle in Republican primaries. But because of his comparatively moderate positions, they say he could argue that he would be a stronger general-election candidate than Trump enablers such as former vice president Mike Pence or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Frank Luntz, a national pollster who has advised Republicans, said Hogan “sounds like someone who could connect to Trump voters,” because he speaks bluntly and is highly popular in his state.
“That said, enough of them are aware . . . of what he’s said about Trump to make it a tough process,” Luntz said. “Democrats should be thankful for that, because he’s one of the Republicans that would be toughest to beat on a national level.”
Although I personally find many of Hogan’s positions too conservative, I certainly would like to see his wing of the GOP gain strength at the expense of the raging dishonesty and contempt for law and norms displayed by Trump and his coterie.
Hogan, who portrays himself as a beacon of bipartisanship, has come under fire in Maryland for belittling political opponents and for being less than truthful — such as about the coronavirus tests he imported with much fanfare from South Korea, which turned out to be essentially unusable. Aside from rolling back some of his predecessor’s tax increases, he has few grand initiatives or legislative achievements to point to during his tenure.
Hogan says he wants the GOP to return to being a “big tent” party that he says would appeal to the majority of voters in the ideological center who favor practical, bipartisan solutions on issues such as infrastructure, immigration, the environment and cooperation with allies abroad.
Under Trump, the party’s strategy has been instead to emphasize right-wing positions that rev up turnout among the partisan base.
“The party has to grow, or it will die,” said Doug Mayer, a Republican strategist and longtime Hogan adviser. “Politics is a sales job. We need to sell to everybody.”
Hogan wants to follow what he sees as the approach of Ronald Reagan, for whom he cast a write-in ballot for president in November. The vote for a dead person drew snickers, but Hogan said he has no regrets.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the vote,” he said. “It was sending a message that I wanted to send very clearly. . . . If we’re going to move forward, then we have to look back and look at the lessons we learned under Reagan.”
Right now, Trump’s grip on the party appears strong. But Hogan thinks that will change as the realization sinks in that Trump was a political disaster that cost the party both chambers of Congress and the White House in a single presidential election cycle.
“It was Donald Trump who lost the Senate. It was Donald Trump who lost the House. It was Donald Trump who lost the presidency in four years. It was Donald Trump’s politics that lost all those things,” Hogan said. “There’s no question he’s going to have a lingering influence and still be a major factor to deal with in the party, but I think it’s going to consistently decline.”
He said the party must push back against “this massive disinformation campaign” that Biden somehow stole the election, and rid itself of fringe elements such as those who assaulted the Capitol.
“There are good regular folks who believe, for lots of very worthwhile reasons, that the president was somebody they wanted to support,” Hogan said. “There were other, crazy, QAnon right-wing groups that were kind of off the reservation. We’ve got to sort of purge the party of those radical extremists.”
He dodged a question about whether he supports convicting Trump in the forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.
“I’m torn on that,” he said. “The president has got to be held accountable. . . . What is the right way to go about that, I’m not quite sure.”
Hogan said he won’t decide about running for president until after his second term as governor ends in two years. (Maryland law bars seeking a third term.) If he did run, he would stick to most of Trump’s economic positions, such as favoring lower taxes and less regulation. But he called himself “more of a free-trade guy” than Trump, and said the GOP should devote less energy to social issues.
Although he personally opposes abortion as a Roman Catholic, Hogan said, “I’m not sure it’s something that the Republican Party ought to be focused on as their top priority.”
That sounds to me like a pretty big hurdle to jump in a Republican primary, but pollster Luntz said he believes GOP voters would be willing to overlook such differences.
“It’s not just about issues, but also about attributes and character traits,” Luntz said.
Republicans “want someone who doesn’t sound like a politician,” he said, and they like governors because they “have shown they can do the job.”
Even if Hogan came up short in a presidential race, he could perform well and gain adherents to his views within the party. If he were among the last candidates standing, it could net him a Cabinet post or even a vice-presidential nomination.
Regardless of whether you agree with him on everything, that would be a positive development for both the GOP and the country.