Five months are left in the term of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), a period that looks increasingly like a countdown to the end of the Republican Party’s electoral viability in the Free State. Despite the GOP’s proud history there, it has lately marginalized itself to such an extent that success in this fall’s elections seems far-fetched.
Mr. Hogan, a traditional conservative, has managed to maintain his credibility, along with high levels of popular support, by governing largely as a pragmatist and avoiding culture war politics in his two terms in office. He did not patent that formula for success for a Republican in one of the nation’s most heavily Democratic states. A number of GOP officeholders who came before him — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Rep. Connie Morella and Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias, among others — worked from a similar blueprint. But judging from the extreme rightward tilt in Maryland’s GOP today, Mr. Hogan may be, in the near term, the last of an admirable lineage.
In fact, the most prominent of the current Republican candidates, having positioned themselves on the fringe of American politics, do not hew to any traditional definition of conservatism.
One, gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, has flirted with QAnon, the crackpot conspiracy theory that conjures a demonic plot of Democratic pedophiles. Another, Michael Peroutka, the party’s nominee for attorney general, has said that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were caused by “controlled demolitions” triggered by pre-planted explosives, not by airplanes hijacked by terrorists. He also suggests that covid-19, which he calls a “plandemic,” was somehow intentional; and he is a rare present-day champion of the Civil War South, calling himself a “true Confederate.” A GOP incumbent, Rep. Andy Harris, helped former president Donald Trump formulate a plan to overturn the results of a democratic popular election.
Up and down the ballot, Republican candidates subscribe to the myth that election fraud is rife and that President Biden somehow stole the 2020 election. For top-of-the-ticket Republicans, the common denominator is blind loyalty to Mr. Trump and a willingness to parrot his lies.
By contrast, the springboard for success among Maryland’s previous high-profile GOP public servants was an insistent independent streak that freed them from party orthodoxy.
For Mr. Ehrlich, that meant enacting a new levy on Maryland residents, the so-called flush tax, which generated tens of millions of dollars annually to upgrade aging sewage treatment plants, a major initiative to revive the Chesapeake Bay. For Ms. Morella, it meant favoring abortion rights, gun control measures and steps to protect the environment. For Mr. Mathias, it meant an abiding support for civil rights and fearless criticism of the Watergate scandal and his party’s president, Richard M. Nixon. For Mr. Hogan, it has meant open contempt for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cox, who tops the Republican ticket in November’s election, clinched his party’s nomination as an acolyte of Mr. Trump, who endorsed him. That support will very likely be an albatross in the general election given that Mr. Trump lost Maryland by a 2-to-1 margin in 2020.
A defeat for Mr. Cox and Mr. Peroutka would leave Mr. Harris as the lone prominent GOP officeholder in Maryland, where twice as many voters are registered Democrats as Republicans. That would mark a drastic diminishment for the party, one it has brought on itself.
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