Governor Larry Hogan has set a strong trajectory for the Maryland Republican Party going into what is sure to be a raucous 2018 election cycle. While so-called “midterm” elections are usually reported to national audiences as referendums on the President and the political Party in power, Maryland’s gubernatorial and legislative elections next November are already shaping up to be more about whether Marylanders are ready to give other voices a seat at the table.
In mid-June, headlining the Maryland Republican Party’s marquee event of the year, the Red, White and Blue Dinner, Hogan issued a challenge to the assembled Party members: it was time to make the Republican Party in Maryland “better, stronger and more relevant.”
Before the tempest of election season kicks into full gear, it’s time for Maryland Republicans, as well as those 74% of Marylanders who approve of the job Governor Hogan is doing, to rally to the Governor’s defense and beat back the false, misleading, and outright insane narratives that are going to be coming after the Governor in the weeks and months ahead.
The Struggle for Relevancy
The struggle for relevancy, despite boasting one of the most popular Republican governors in the nation, is real for Maryland Republicans. Without descending into finger-pointing and blaming, Democrats have had a firm grip on Maryland’s legislature and political direction for much of the past century. Deviations from the norm, like Governors Agnew, Ehrlich and Hogan and Senator Mathais have all come in the form of what we would, in the modern sense, call “moderate Republicans.”
It’s important to jump out ahead of narratives that will, almost assuredly, come fast and continuous, against Governor Hogan in advance of the final legislative session at the beginning of next year and through the campaign to unseat him in the Fall. Here are a few that you will be able to set your watch by: “Larry Hogan is Actually a Radical Conservative,” “Larry Hogan is Maryland’s Donald Trump,” and “Larry Hogan Doesn’t Care About [Insert Interest Group Here].”
Let’s deal with each of these, already in ascending order of ludicrous-ness.
“Hogan the Deceiver”
First, expect to hear that Governor Hogan is some kind of secret arch-conservative ready to force women into back-alley abortions, push gays off of cliffs, disenfranchise black people, and drown grandmothers who become too expensive to care for. These are the tired narratives of the American Left, but they persist because they work to gin-up the support of members of the base to get them to vote on Election Day. No matter that Governor Hogan has, much to the chagrin of real arch-conservatives, charted a moderate approach to social issues, he will be painted as someone outside of the “mainstream” of American culture.
Let’s go through what you need to think when you hear these attacks. First, if you are one of those arch-conservatives and are irritated that the Governor isn’t the ideological firebrand that you would be in his position, remember, he’s in the position, not you. The cliché of the “big tent” now applies to the Republican Party. Since the election of Donald Trump, we are the Party that ranges from Ted Nugent to Ivanka Trump and from blue collar union workers to Bill Kristol. There is room for both you and Larry Hogan in the modern Republican Party.
Now, if you’re somewhere closer to the center and are concerned about the rabid attacks on the Governor for any of a myriad of focus-tested social issue dog whistles, it’s important to remember that the Democrats have instituted, in effect, ideological lockstep in their Party that doesn’t allow for dissention from the narrative. This is evidenced by the droves of middle-class Americans who are generally moderate in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania voting Republican in the last election. As an aside, remember that Republican Senators up for re-election in those states actually outperformed Trump on the ballot. This signals that the Republican “brand” is actually outperforming the Democrats.
You need only look at Governor Hogan’s record as Governor to see that he hasn’t pushed an ideologically conservative agenda. This isn’t to say it’s been a progressive or socially liberal agenda, but, rather, that his leadership has been pragmatic, to-the-point, and free of the types of infighting and scandal that are all-too-common in modern politics. Of course, the squeakiest wheels are always the ones that get coverage in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, but, again, remember that the left-wing ideology has moved outside of the mainstream so that a moderate, like Governor Hogan, would, to them, seem extreme. It’s the Doppler Effect in politics. We aren’t moving, the Left is hurtling away.
“Hogan the Trumper”
So, what about the second concern– associating Governor Hogan with President Trump? Of course, you mean the President that Hogan, on the record, didn’t vote for? Again, this got under the skin of some Republicans who wanted to see some cooperation with the Party’s Presidential nominee. But, you know what? People are allowed to have their personal views. The funny thing is, especially if the Democrats select a current Federal elected official as their gubernatorial nominee (read: John Delaney or John Sarbanes—both of whom are rumored to be strongly considering a run), they’re going to actively run with the narrative that Larry Hogan and Donald Trump are cut from the same cloth. Despite Governor Hogan charting a solidly pro-Maryland course, the rhetoric from the Left won’t listen to reason and, instead, you’ll be treated to Democrats and their operatives contorting themselves into pretzels to make Larry Hogan seem like Donald Trump’s best friend.
So, how do we fight this second narrative? If you’re a Trump fan, like we talked about for people who are strong conservatives, realize that Larry Hogan has been a strong improvement for the State after the disaster that was the stewardship of Martin O’Malley. If you’re on the fence and concerned about Larry Hogan’s independence from Washington, remember that he’s been working hard to grow Maryland’s economy, push back against spending nonsense from the General Assembly, and has taken each “federal issue” on its own merits. On some federal issues, like healthcare reform, Governor Hogan has been wary of Republican efforts to paint with a broad brush. On other issues, like sanctuary cities, the Governor has been a strong proponent of the rule of law. Having someone at the helm who is thoughtful and deliberative, steady and sober, is strongly valuable in contrast to reactionaries who would attempt to posture and “resist” in order to score political points.
“Hogan the Hater”
Finally, we can dismiss the “Larry Hogan doesn’t care about [the interest group du jour]” very easily. This is the call to identity politics. The modern left has succeeded, in certain areas, by fostering a disingenuous narrative that people need to be defined by traits rather than as individuals. Thus, people who don’t succeed are not in that position because of their choices and as a consequence of their actions, but rather as a result of friction between the governing ethos and their respective interest group. While we can readily see that the history of certain people, whether racially or based on gender or sexual orientation hasn’t been smooth sailing, comparing the Republican message, championed by the Governor, that, regardless of who you are, we want to see you succeed, versus the Democrats’ message that people are doomed to fail because of history, we can see what message should be shouted from the rooftops.
This criticism of the Governor can be easily combated with the simple question: “and has electing generations of Democrat made peoples’ lives better or simply pulled people apart into interest groups?” Prosperity, like the kind Governor Hogan is advancing in Maryland, isn’t based in identity politics, outside of wanting people to “identify” as successful Marylanders.
2018: A Time for Choice
We must go into the next election cycle with our eyes open. Democrats are rushing manpower and money into the race to unseat Governor Hogan. We can see in the example of Democrats heaping power on Attorney General Brian Frosh exactly what a Democrat Governor in 2018 would mean: posturing against Trump to score political points at the expense of the State they’re elected to govern. More than that, money in progressive politics is drowning out the moderate Democrats, so many of whom support the common-sense ideas pushed by Governor Hogan. A state the becomes the incubator for radical ideas is not a place where businesses and families will want to invest and grow. Instead, Maryland runs the risk of falling further into a financial hole that we are just now, by the grace of Larry Hogan, finally beginning to reverse.
Republicans must be ready to be stronger, better, and more relevant in the dialogue going into the 2018 Gubernatorial Elections. Larry Hogan needs help from voters to bring real dialogue to the State. People need to stand up and decide that a two-Party system is better than only having one Party in charge with a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly. Let’s give Larry Hogan a chance to govern and truly Change Maryland for the better.