Gov. Larry Hogan has received plaudits for his willingness to utter any criticisms of Donald Trump’s grotesque behavior, in contrast to the lapdog approach that prevails among Republicans. Nevertheless, Hogan has been quite reluctant to criticize Trump and extremely strategic in both when and how he does it.
Larry Hogan relies regularly on one excuse to explain his usual unwillingness to comment on Trump:
But during the Obama administration, during the Trump administration, I always said: “I didn’t run for Congress. I didn’t run for the Senate. I’m not in Washington. My focus — what they hired me to do — was run the state of Maryland.”
Funnily enough, Hogan’s self-proclaimed laser-like focus on Maryland and reticence to attack the president or engage in national policy debates fell away when he opposed allowing Syrian refugees to be settled in Maryland when Barack Obama was president. Who knew that states set refugee policy?
In contrast, Hogan had nothing to say on Trump’s Muslim ban because “it didn’t rise to the point where it was something I thought I should weigh in on” notwithstanding massive protests at BWI. Earlier this year, Hogan opposed the separation of kids from parents at the border when Trump’s reactionary immigration policy threatened to imperil his own political future.
It’s not unusual that Hogan’s pique at having to comment on issues outside of Maryland melts away quickly when it suits his purposes. Taking time to campaign for Chris Christie in New Jersey and Ed Gillespie in Virginia sure wasn’t part of running Maryland. Hogan went out and stumped for Gillespie even as the campaign emulated Corey Stewart and went full Trump in its demagoguery.
In contrast, Hogan had nothing to say about the Republican tax bill in Washington that ended the state and local tax deduction – a major hit on many of his Maryland constituents. Sure seems news of the weird when a Republican won’t attack Washington for raising taxes on his constituents.
Even a cursory analysis reveals that Hogan’s gentle criticisms of Trump’s policies are often made without mentioning the president. Sstatements on Trump himself are usually calibrated carefully to appeal to Trump supporters even as he maintains his political viability in this heavily Democratic state.
Hogan’s statements on the Mueller investigation are typical. Right after Hogan said that ending the Mueller investigation “would be a step too far,” the Governor reflexively echoed the president’s talking point that “the investigation is going too far afield of its original intent.”
It’s classic Hogan, sound centrist but then immediately pivot to shore up the Trump base. Incredibly, Hogan also stated that “I can’t sit in judgment. Whether I like what’s going on, the people overwhelmingly elected him as president.” Overwhelmingly.
Yes, Hogan has clearly spoken out more than most Republican politicians. But it has been only occasionally and grudgingly. He benefits enormously from grade inflation stemming from the supine posture of virtually all Republicans towards Donald Trump.
When you think about the endless Republican efforts to somehow turn the tragedy in Benghazi into a crime by Hillary Clinton, their total lack of interest in any of Trump’s public violation of our laws and democratic norms is even more amazing.
Gov. Larry Hogan has greater responsibility to speak up precisely because he is a Republican. It ought to be more reprehensible to him when a member of his own party acts abominably than a Democrat because it reflects on his party.
Moreover, as a member of the same party, statements by Hogan against Trump’s routine breakage of presidential and democratic norms would carry more weight in our overly polarized era. Hogan has handled Trump very deftly from a political perspective. But political acumen is not the same as moral leadership.