As Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan prepares to exit the governor’s mansion and end his eight-year stint in the unusual role of a Republican running a deep-blue state, he is shaking his head in disbelief at what’s become of the GOP.
Mr. Hogan, who was never a fan of former President Donald Trump, sees the Republican Party suffering the consequences of the Trump brand. And nowhere are those consequences more apparent than in Maryland, he said, where the return of complete Democratic control of state government ushers in fears that runaway spending will eat up the $2.5 billion budget surplus and $3 billion rainy day fund that Mr. Hogan leaves behind.
“This is the worst period in time we’ve had for the Republican Party,” Mr. Hogan said when he sat down with The Washington Times for an interview in his State House office. “Biden is so unpopular. Seventy percent of people think that the country is heading in the wrong direction and yet we did not win the Senate, we didn’t get any governors, and we barely got the House back.”
Mr. Hogan lamented that Republicans couldn’t hold the governorship in Maryland, where GOP voters picked Trump-backed gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox over Hogan-endorsed Kelly Schultz. Mr. Cox then lost in a landslide to Democrat Wes Moore in November.
“Not only did I not support him, but most people in the state didn’t, either. The guy wasn’t qualified to be governor,” Mr. Hogan said of Mr. Cox.
The state’s swing back to complete Democratic control was not the legacy Mr. Hogan had hoped for.
“I’m concerned about [Maryland] going in a completely different direction,” he said. “It’s not where the state wants to go, even though it is a blue state and a pretty progressive state. They were happy with the balance that we brought and now it’s going to be a monopoly. I think a lot of people are concerned that they will return back to the days before we came in when they were pretty far out of whack.”
Mr. Moore, a former Army combat veteran who will be Maryland’s first Black governor, ran on a liberal agenda with promises of more spending on education and a slew of programs to promote social and racial equity.
Mr. Hogan, who owns a successful real estate business in Maryland, got an early start in Republican politics in college when he got involved in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. He has called himself a “foot soldier of the Reagan Revolution” and he still aligns himself with that vestige of the Republican Party.
He even wrote in Ronald Reagan on his ballot in the 2020 presidential election.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Hogan has drawn the ire of the “America First” wing of the Republican Party for his refusal to embrace Mr. Trump. He has remained a vocal critic of Mr. Trump and blames the former president’s influence for the party’s recent election disappointments.
Mr. Trump, in return, writes off Mr. Hogan as a RINO or “Republican in name only.” Maryland’s GOP voters listened to Mr. Trump — not Mr. Hogan — when casting their votes in the 2022 gubernatorial primary race.
Now, after the expected red wave fizzled in the midterm elections, Mr. Hogan thinks his party is going to start listening to him when it comes to ditching Mr. Trump.
“I’ve been talking about that for several years, but I would say now the vast majority of Republicans are talking that way,” he said. “Before, no one would say it. But now you can talk to any governor or senator and there are a lot of people who are coming onto my side. … We have to move in a different direction.”
He cites growing the economy and bringing jobs to Maryland as the accomplishments he is most proud of from his tenure as governor. In eight years, his policies helped raise Maryland’s economic ranking from 49th in the nation to 6th.
The governor has built a coalition of support across party lines — a necessity in the deep blue state — and his policies, including rolling back tolls for Maryland commuters, remain popular.
Mr. Hogan credits his “unique brand” and bipartisan approach to governing for his success in a reliably Democratic state.
“We’re just 30 miles down the road from Washington, D.C., and we’ve been successful while [they are] just mired in divisiveness and dysfunction because all they do is fight and call each other names,” he said. “I’ve been willing to sit down and listen to the other side and find middle ground sometimes to get some things done. Whereas in Washington, they never seem to do that anymore.”
Mr. Hogan hasn’t ruled out trying to bring his political style to Washington, though he said he has not yet made a decision about running for president in 2024.
Floated as an alternative to Mr. Trump, the governor did, however, weigh in on the former president jumping in early in the race and President Biden’s 2024 prospects.
“Trump announced more than a month ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a campaign. Trump continues to erode, I think he was down below 30%,” Mr. Hogan said of the former president’s popularity.
On Mr. Biden’s performance as president, Mr. Hogan credited him with getting an infrastructure bill done, but he said they’ve failed on the economy and the border. He didn’t think Mr. Biden would seek a second term, despite the president signaling he would likely run again in 2024.
“The vast majority of people in America don’t support Trump or Biden, and they’re looking for something new,” Mr. Hogan said.
Still, Mr. Hogan would face a tough environment if he enters the 2024 race, given the GOP base’s loyalty to Mr. Trump.
In his state, Maryland Republicans went 2-1 for Mr. Trump over Mr. Hogan in a survey conducted earlier this year by The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore.
The governor, however, downplayed the strength of the MAGA base.
“Some portion of the base is fired up, but we turned off people in the middle, and that’s who decides elections,” Mr. Hogan said. “We lost a lot of Republicans, and we’re losing Republicans every day who are switching to become independents. We lost a lot of independents, and we don’t win the Reagan Democrats like we used to.”