Rational Republicans, ex-Republicans and Republicans-who’ll-give-up-if-President-Trump’s-the-2020-nominee have started looking for a potential challenger to him. The wanted ad would read: Republican with record of good governance. Walks the walk when it comes compromise and civility. Won reelection by huge margin in year the GOP got wiped out. Has a track record of winning over Democrats and independents. Strong, principled critic of Trump.
Well, that might be a job more easily filled than one might imagine. Wednesday at noon, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is to be sworn in. He was reelected by about 12 points in a dismal election cycle for Republicans. He has criticized Trump on everything from immigration to climate change to character. And he can boast of reductions in fees, some taxes and tolls, while spending on transportation, incentives for manufacturers to come to Maryland, education and green initiatives.
What defines Hogan, however, may be his style and deliberate criticism of Trump’s presidency. In remarks prepared for delivery, he reminds Marylanders of his roots:
My father was proud to serve in Congress with George H.W. Bush. He served on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate as the whole world watched the impeachment proceedings. Despite tremendous political pressure, he put aside partisanship and answered the demands of his conscience to do what he thought was the right thing for the nation that he loved. “Party loyalty,” he said, “and personal affection and precedents of the past must fall before the arbiter of men’s actions: the law itself. No man, not even the President of the United States, is above the law. For our system of justice and our system of government to survive, we must pledge our highest allegiance to the strength of the law and not to the common frailties of man.” With those words, my father became the first Republican to come out for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
And he stresses his commitment to good governance. “We debated, discussed, and reasoned together honestly and productively, with integrity and sincere purpose. We argued without acrimony, negotiated without hidden agendas, and compromised without political posturing,” he recounts. “We didn’t demand Republican solutions or Democratic solutions; we sought out bipartisan, commonsense solutions that worked for the people of Maryland.”
In a clear swipe at Trump, he urges his state to “repudiate the debilitating politics practiced elsewhere — including just down the road in Washington — where insults substitute for debate, recriminations for negotiation, and gridlock for compromise; where the heat, finger-pointing, and rancor suffocates the light, and the only result is divisiveness and dysfunction.” Coming in the midst of the longest federal government shutdown, his criticism has particular resonance.
His overall tone reflects his generally businesslike and sunny outlook: "I’m willing to stand up and fight for the things that really matter but not for status quo politics and not to perpetuate polarization and paralysis. I come from the get-to-work and get-things-done school of politics, and I’ll work with anyone who wants to do the people’s business.”
One cannot help discern the beginnings of a national campaign message: "To those who say our political system is too broken and can’t be fixed, I would argue that we have already shown a better path forward. And if we can accomplish that here in Maryland, then there is no place in America where these very same principles cannot succeed.”
Hogan certainly has the record and gravitas to stand up against Trump (a low bar). He looks more like a linebacker than a blow-dried politician, and exudes “normalness." Would he be viable in a GOP primary? Well, if Trump crumbles, is forced out or is under the cloud of potential indictment and/or impeachment, just about any elected Republican who opposed Trump will be in the mix. Moreover, his campaign at the very least would point the way to a constructive, responsible and decent future for the party — after it sweeps the barn clean of Trump and his enablers.