Maryland Gov. Hogan suggests GOP veer from Trump ‘rhetoric’ and back to Reagan model to win back White House

Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday that Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has secured “a pretty overwhelming victory at this point” and to win back the White House, the GOP should abandon the divisive rhetoric of a president who failed on major issues because he was “his own worst enemy.”

Hogan acknowledged at a livestreamed forum of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Washington that Republican President Donald Trump has strong support among GOP primary voters.

"But I think Republicans would like to control the White House and govern America. That’s what Reagan did so effectively. Like it or not, the president didn’t win, so now we have Joe Biden as president for four years.”

Hogan, a possible 2024 presidential contender, used the 60-minute address and question-and-answer period to pitch his brand of pragmatic conservatism at what he called a “crossroads” for his party. While he has opposed Trump on issues before, the governor went further Monday, criticizing not only the president’s sharp tone, but his ineffectiveness on key issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, rebuilding America’s infrastructure and finishing the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Before being elected in 2016, Trump pledged a $1 trillion plan to rebuild roads, water systems and other aging infrastructure.

“Instead, they went out and had a big fight on health care and didn’t accomplish anything,” Hogan said. “They talked about the wall ... that was his primary focus. But [Trump] didn’t get anything done on all the other issues he ran on. I think sometimes the president was his own worst enemy.”

As a college student, Hogan supported Reagan as an alternate delegate to the 1976 Republican National Convention. In the presidential election two weeks ago, the governor cast a symbolic write-in vote for Reagan, who served two terms from 1981 until 1989. Reagan died in 2004.

Biden won the election, even as Georgia workers continue a recount with Trump trailing in the state by roughly 14,000 votes. Trump has refused to concede, citing baseless claims of election fraud in battleground states. Hogan has said the GOP could be hurting itself politically by not recognizing Biden as the winner.

Hogan used Monday’s speech to contrast Trump’s style with Reagan’s, suggesting Reagan’s more tempered approach was preferable for the nation. Reagan “was known as 'the great communicator’ because he understood the limits of rhetoric. He wasn’t focused on scoring partisan points,” Hogan said.

A White House spokesman did not immediately reply Monday to a request for comment.

In repeatedly invoking Reagan, Hogan seemed to espouse “going back to the old Republican Party, to what now looks like a moderate Republican Party in comparison to the party we have now,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs. “The question is, ‘Does his brand of Republicanism fit the Republican Party?’"

Hogan has said he’s open to considering a run for president in 2024. He did not address his political aspirations during Monday’s speech. Term limits bar Hogan from seeking a third, four-year term as governor in 2022.

While it is premature to forecast the post-Trump tenor of the party, “there will have to be an earthquake in the GOP before a moderate like Larry Hogan can capture the GOP’s presidential nomination,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “The Trump troops will never accept him for obvious reasons. And even the anti-Trump part of the GOP is more conservative than Hogan. Could Ronald Reagan himself even be nominated by today’s Republican Party?”

In 2019, Hogan considered a run against Trump in the 2020 primaries. While he visited the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he took few concrete steps to begin a campaign or raise the serious money needed, and ultimately decided against it.

In Monday’s speech, Hogan touted his ability to work with Democrats and secure enough Democratic votes to win two terms in solidly blue Maryland.

“Seventy percent of both houses of my legislature are progressive Democrats, but we cut taxes and regulations, and created the biggest economic turnaround in America. Just imagine what we could’ve done with a Republican legislature,” Hogan said.

State Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, said in a statement in reply that the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership has “been able to override (Hogan) vetoes on raising the minimum wage, increasing access to the polls, fighting against climate change, keeping families safe, increasing job opportunities, and so much more.”

At the same time, Ferguson said Hogan and the General Assembly “have been able to find areas to work together and disagree without being disagreeable. I would hope that won’t be changing.”

The governor has had a tempestuous relationship with Baltimore and its political leaders, all Democrats. He has been criticized by some in Baltimore for several of his decisions since taking office, such as canceling the Red Line, a proposed east-west light rail line that would have improved workers' access to jobs.

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