So it’s not surprising that, midway through his second term, Hogan is coming out with a book and starting to do the things that future presidential candidates do. While it’s impossible to know how a politician will handle the trial by fire of a presidential campaign, a potential Hogan candidacy allows us to ask an important question:
Will there be room in the Republican Party for moderates after Trump is gone? Could one such Republican even win the party’s presidential nomination?
If it’s at all possible, Hogan seems like the kind of person who could do it. While he has plenty of critics, the fact that he was elected — and reelected — in Maryland, and has maintained high approval ratings, shows that he’s a savvy politician who knows how to navigate challenging terrain. In a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, Hogan was reelected in 2018 by a 12-point margin.
The GOP will face one of three possible outcomes this year. The first is a narrow victory by Trump. His second term would be rocky (to say the least) and, in all likelihood, Republicans would suffer continued losses in Congress and at the state level in 2022, putting them in a position to consider a serious change.
The second outcome is a narrow victory by Joe Biden, which over the long term may be the best scenario for the GOP. In that case, they may well take back the Senate in 2022 if they lose it this year (though the map is more favorable to Democrats), which would allow them to hamstring Biden’s presidency and put them in a reasonable position for 2024 — reasonable enough that radical change to the party’s identity will seem unnecessary.
The third outcome may be the most likely, at least as it looks today: a huge 2020 sweep for Biden and the Democrats. As Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report says, “This election is looking more like a Democratic tsunami than simply a Blue wave.”
If it turns out that way, Republicans may find themselves insisting that, because they made such a terrible mistake accepting Trump as their leader, a dramatic change in course — such as rallying around a moderate who has shown an ability to pull voters from the other side — is what the party needs to survive.
(I’m not considering a Trump blowout as a real possibility, despite what the grammatically challenged Trump supporters who email me daily may predict.)
There’s some precedent for a scenario in which a major defeat is followed by the nomination of a more moderate candidate. After Barry Goldwater’s loss in 1964, Republicans nominated the relatively moderate Richard M. Nixon four years later. Jimmy Carter won the Democratic Party nomination four years after George McGovern was blown out by Nixon. Bill Clinton reoriented Democrats in a more moderate direction in 1992 after they had lost their third presidential campaign in a row.
But it may be precisely the disaster of Trump that prevents Republicans from moving to the center.
Because, to do so, they’d have to decide that, in the post-Trump era, they face an ideological problem that a moderate nominee could solve. While it’s possible, I’d argue that it’s unlikely.
It takes an unusual effort for a party to accept that the public doesn’t agree with them or want to buy what they’re selling. Whenever a party loses an election, they’re drawn to explanations that don’t cut so deeply to the core of their identity: Our candidate was flawed, he ran a terrible campaign, the media were against us, unforeseeable events doomed us in the end, and so on.
If those are the explanations Republicans seek after this election, they’ll have plenty of material to work with. Trump is indeed a uniquely flawed figure who, for now, is running an absolutely dreadful campaign. It will also make sense to blame his loss on the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis (even if it is his mismanagement that has made them so catastrophic).
So, for most Republicans, the most sensible conclusion will be that they need not change much of anything about themselves and what they stand for. They just need a nominee who’s a strong conservative but not such an all-around train wreck.
And all those Trump fans will still be around. Living under a Democratic presidency for four years is unlikely to send them looking for a moderate touting the value of compromise.
My default position on any potential candidate is “Give it a shot — you won’t know until you try.” But Larry Hogan — or any other moderate Republican — is going to face a serious uphill climb.