The Republican governor of Maryland didn’t mention President Trump’s name Tuesday when he opened a conference in downtown Washington focused on the future of the GOP.
He didn’t have to.
Gov. Larry Hogan told the assembled political and policy thinkers that he ran for office four years ago because he was “completely fed up with politics as usual — and, quite frankly, I still am, maybe today more than ever.”
“Compromise and moderation should not be considered dirty words,” Hogan said at the Niskanen Center conference. “I believe it’s only when the partisan shouting stops that we can truly hear each other’s voices and concerns.”
It was a rare venture into the national political conversation for Hogan, whose popularity in a blue state and reelection last month with strong Democratic and independent support have fueled talk about his future prospects.
He cited GOP losses in the midterm elections as evidence that the current national Republican model was failing. And the audience of about 100 right-leaning writers and academics clearly agreed with him.
“Trump is a virus, and the antibodies will emerge,” said Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “He’s not a political colossus. He’s weaker than he ought to be, all things considered.”
Other attendees lamented that their movement, which sees politicians such as Hogan as proof that a more inclusive party could win anywhere in the country, has been taken over by Trump. Columnist Bill Kristol, who has been actively encouraging a Republican primary challenge to the president in 2020, bemoaned the departure from politics of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), whom he’d seen as the “future of the party.”
Niskanen Center President Jerry Taylor said the nonpartisan think tank chose Hogan to open the event — titled “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump” — because of his success governing as a moderate in Maryland. Hogan was reelected with significant support from women and African Americans, groups that Republicans “have to do better with,” Taylor said. “He lays a path that we might want to pay attention to.”
It would have been rare to find Hogan at such a forum during his first term, when he said he was focused strictly on Maryland. But Hogan indicated the day after the midterm elections that he now intends to join the conversation.
“There’s no question the Republican Party has to take a close look at itself,” Hogan said then.
Although a few other GOP governors, such as Charlie Baker (Mass.) and John Kasich (Ohio), have also been critical of the president, Hogan told reporters Tuesday that he has stood up to the Trump administration “numerous times — I would say more so than any Republican governor in America.”
In contrast, Hogan paid visible homage to George H.W. Bush last week after the former president’s death, canceling work for state employees and traveling to the U.S. Capitol to pay his respects when the casket arrived.
“We believe he embodies the spirit of moderation that the GOP sorely needs, both heading into 2020 and beyond, in order to counter the populist strain in the party that Donald Trump has stoked and magnified,” said Niskanen spokeswoman Louisa Tavlas.
The center is named after William A. Niskanen, who was an economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan. It advances policies that address climate change, promote immigration and provide some form of universal catastrophic health-care insurance — ideas that either conflict with or do not have traction in Trump-centered Republican politics.
Hogan, who is term-limited as governor, has been coy about whether he would seek higher office. When someone shouted “Hogan for president” during a campaign rally this fall, the governor gave a disapproving look.
Other Republicans, such as Kasich and retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), have flirted with making bids against Trump in 2020. Both have made high-profile trips to New Hampshire; Hogan has not. But in an interview with Politico last month, Hogan said he would “never say never” to presidential speculation, and Kristol did not rule him out as a standard-bearer for the party’s center-right.
“He’s not not in the mix,” Kristol said. “I’d be happy to have him in the mix.”
The Republican Party has made moves toward blocking a serious challenge to Trump. The New Hampshire Republican Party is considering an official endorsement of the president, departing from its usual neutrality — something that would allow the party to use official resources against a challenger. And the Republican National Committee has said it would punish any 2020 GOP candidates who appeared in debates not endorsed by the party.
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor saw Tuesday’s speech as a “good opportunity to talk about the future of the Republican Party, bipartisanship and how he has successfully implemented things in Maryland that would make the party successful nationwide.”
Some in the audience perked up when Hogan talked about his father, the late Larry Hogan Sr., a moderate Republican congressman who was the first to call for President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment. With the Capitol dome visible behind him, Hogan recounted how his father’s decision probably cost him his political future as a Republican politician — and how, in the end, he was right.
“History has proven that his courageous stand was the right thing to do for our nation,” Hogan said.
Rachel Chason contributed to this report.