When one thinks about governors who could potentially challenge President Trump in a 2020 Republican primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been among the most consistent, visible and unsparing Trump critics, surely comes to mind. There likely is not a subject — including Russia, human rights, health care, race and the debt — on which he has not engaged. However, he is not the only Republican whom one could imagine mounting a primary challenge to Trump.
Gov. Larry Hogan who won reelection in Maryland last month by a larger margin than he won by in 2014 — this time in a blue-wave election year — and became the first Republican governor to win reelection in Maryland since 1954, is getting out and about more. The Post published an op-ed that Hogan co-authored with Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam (D), touting their leadership in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a state-based effort to combat climate change.
On Tuesday, Hogan opened a conference held by the Niskanen Center on the future of the right. (Full disclosure: I spoke on one of the panels, without compensation.) He spoke about his success in riding a “purple surfboard” to survive a blue-wave election, as well as his vision of governance based on bipartisanship, fiscal sanity, civility and common sense. Explicitly making the contrast between his state and the federal government, he made the case that his state’s model of compromise and good governance can work elsewhere.
Hogan is not an electrifying speaker, but he is a sincere and confident presence, a former businessman who looks like an every-man, not a TV-coiffed politician. (The governorship is his first elected office.)
In short, he’s about as far from Trump as one can get in the GOP (Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts is right there with him). Hogan certainly has not indicated interest in running, but he has not ruled it out. The bigger question is whether there is a critical mass of Republicans who would vote for someone who isn’t a climate-change denier, doesn’t peddle in nativism and protectionism, and doesn’t engage in nonstop divisive politics.
The answer could well be no, but should Trump falter (perhaps being forced to resign or becoming so politically toxic that he won’t seek reelection), then the GOP primary could be as a crowded as the Democratic primary with an ideologically varied field.
Even if Trump stands for reelection, it would behoove those still fighting to jettison Trump and cleanse the party of Trumpism to find a standard bearer — maybe a ticket (Hogan-Kasich? Kasich-Hogan? They could flip for the top spot) — to present a saner, smarter and more relevant center-right agenda. Aside from issues and ideology, a candidate or ticket entirely different in tone and character from Trump would be refreshing, to say the least. It would, at any rate, be evidence that narcissism, ignorance, bullying and cruelty need not be a president’s defining features.
“A responsible, decent and principled Republican should challenge President Trump for the 2020 nomination,” Bill Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard told me. “I’m trying to stay candidate-agnostic within those bounds, but I’m happy to say Larry Hogan’s an impressive man with a fine record.”
Now, it is no secret that I don’t think much of the GOP’s chances for revival and regeneration any time soon. However, a primary challenge certainly is worth a try, especially as Trump’s emotional state and legal position deteriorate at a faster clip. Moreover, an alternative ticket could provide the nucleus of a new party or a center-right independent ticket.
In any event, it is worth emphasizing that arguably the most successful Republican incumbent in the most treacherous election for Republicans was the guy who’s the anti-Trump in just about every imaginable way. The country needs a two-party system, and we could do a lot worse than to have one of them espouse Hogan’s (or Kasich’s) agenda and tone.