The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump ally launches effort to blunt Md. governor’s potential 2020 challenge

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) delivers his State of the State address last month before a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

As President Trump’s allies continue to try to discourage Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan from mounting a 2020 primary challenge, the president’s former deputy campaign manager David M. Bossie has started to organize a political salvo: A collection of endorsements for the president’s reelection campaign from prominent Maryland Republicans.

Bossie, who is one of two Republican National Committee representatives for Maryland, spoke at the Montgomery County GOP Convention on Saturday. There he met privately with allies of the president to discuss assembling a statement that would send a clear signal to Hogan (R) about Trump’s support in the state as the governor mulls a 2020 bid, according to two people familiar with the effort who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. They said the statement, which is not yet finalized, is expected to express support for Hogan as governor while fully backing Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Hogan — who has high approval ratings in heavily Democratic Maryland — has long been critical of the president, but he has become more vocal since starting his second term this year. Maryland limits its governors to two terms, and some high-profile conservatives have encouraged Hogan to challenge Trump in the presidential primary. Last week, Hogan accused the RNC of taking “unprecedented” steps to close ranks around Trump and shield him from potential challengers.

On Monday, Hogan criticized Bossie’s attempt to divide Republicans in his state.

“These kind of heavy-handed tactics are not what we need in our politics. We should be focused on encouraging discussion and debate, not seeking to divide,” Hogan said. “This is exactly why people are so fed up with Washington.”

Bossie declined to comment on Monday.

Maryland House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) has been helping Bossie recruit a “Trump 2020 Leadership Team” in the state, and several Republican lawmakers said Monday that they have already pledged their support.

State Del. Barrie S. Ciliberti (R-Frederick), who was a county chairman for the president’s campaign, said the statement will help “ward off any attempt at a primary for whoever would be foolish enough to do that.” Ciliberti acknowledged that things could change if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Trump and his campaign “paints the man as Dracula,” but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Larry Hogan is an intelligent man, and he is very politically astute,” Ciliberti said. “He’ll know what to do.”

Robert J. Flanagan, a former Republican delegate from Howard County who lost his seat to a Democrat, said the rush to collect endorsements is “a mistake.”

“I would encourage my fellow Republicans to resist that. They can make their decisions down the road. Give it a little time,” said Flanagan, a Hogan ally who has been critical of Trump. “There’s a temptation to look at the situation in the short run only, and we’ve got to invest in the future of the party. ”

Hogan told Politico last week that he is in no hurry to make a decision on running for president and that “at this point in time, I don’t see any path to winning a Republican primary against this president.” Other Republicans who have considered challenging Trump have reached a similar conclusion. So far, Trump has one declared high-profile Republican challenger: Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld.

Hogan was unexpectedly elected in 2014, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the state by more than 2 to 1, and he was elected to a second term in November.Hogan has had high approval ratings throughout his governorship, and a Goucher College poll released last week found that 80 percent of Marylanders approve of his management of the state government. Meanwhile, less than a third of residents approved of the president’s performance. Still, 55 percent of those polled said Hogan should not run for president.

Although Hogan was reelected with overwhelming support from Maryland Republicans in November, he has angered some members of his party for, among other things, supporting the removal of a controversial statue in Annapolis, backing gun restrictions and criticizing Trump.

During his second inaugural address last month, Hogan implicitly criticized the president, decried the divisiveness of Washington politics and recounted how his late father served in Congress during Watergate and was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to publicly call for President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment.

“Party loyalty and personal affection and precedents of the past must fall before the arbiter of men’s actions: the law itself,” Hogan said in that speech. “No man, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.”

Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason contributed to this report.