Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, seeking to sharpen his national profile as he ponders his political future, casts himself as a tough-minded Republican ally of law enforcement in a memoir that could foreshadow a 2024 presidential bid.
“It really looks like the model of the very type of book that a presidential candidate would write before they spring a run,” said Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.
“He invokes Reagan, he slams Obama. This comes across as trying to appeal to the base,” Hartley said. “This was written for a primary run, not a general election.”
The second-term governor, who says he would consider a 2024 presidential candidacy, on Tuesday released five chapters from his forthcoming book, “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America.” They’re about Hogan’s response to the April 2015 Baltimore unrest following the death of Freddie Gray of injuries suffered in police custody.
Hogan, 64, portrays himself as standing up to then-President Barack Obama and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, two Democrats he describes as concerned that decisive law enforcement action could inflame the situation. Hogan signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and sent in the Maryland National Guard.
While the book title decries “the toxic politics that divide America,” Hogan has had a tempestuous relationship with Baltimore and its political leaders, and no elected Democrats come in for praise in the chapters released Tuesday. The late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who repeatedly took to the streets with a bullhorn to urge people to head home as a nightly curfew went into effect, is mentioned only as attending Gray’s funeral.
In September 2015, Hogan had said that he admired Rawlings-Blake. “Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stood up and has served the city she loves over the course of two decades,” the governor said after the mayor announced that she would not seek another term.
But in 2016, he said the mayor had not properly thanked him for “saving the city” after Gray’s death. And in the chapters released Tuesday, Hogan wrote of an ongoing conflict with Rawlings-Blake, even as the worst of the unrest began to ease. According to Hogan’s account, Rawlings-Blake repeatedly pleaded with him to lift a curfew to help business owners concerned about lost revenue.
Rawlings-Blake did not respond Tuesday to Hogan’s criticism.
Hogan is in his second four-year term as governor and term limits bar him from seeking a third in 2022. While a U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is up for election in 2022, Hogan has said he’s not interested, but is open to considering a run for president in 2024.
“I suppose he’d run in part on how he handled the [coronavirus] pandemic. Except I doubt that’s still a burning issue in four years,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Maryland was the second state to close public schools when the pandemic hit, just moments after Ohio did. Maryland was the third to close senior centers, bars and sit-down restaurants.
“Hogan is a moderate, but Republicans would call him a liberal, certainly on social issues,” Sabato said. “Anything’s possible, but the GOP would have to change drastically by 2024 for Hogan to have a real shot.”
In recounting the crisis following Gray’s death, the book contains parallels to the racial justice protests that have swept the nation this year. President Donald Trump has declared “I am your president of law and order” in response to protests decrying systemic racism and police violence against Black people, prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd died in May when an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In the book, Hogan stakes out a position of standing with law enforcement. “The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department were put in an impossible position,” he writes of the 2015 turmoil. “On the one hand, their fellow officers were the ones being accused of killing Freddie Gray. Now, they were literally under attack and not permitted to respond.”
Hogan has sometimes opposed Trump, also a Republican, in particular over the president’s messaging about the pandemic. As chair of the National Governors Association, Hogan has urged the federal government to help states lacking adequate personal protective equipment and medical supplies for health care workers.
The governor 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 access to jobs, and vetoing an ambitious but expensive public school reform program.
In the book, Hogan writes of hearing from Baltimore residents about what he refers to as “grievances”: a lack of jobs, poor schools and closed community centers. Hogan writes that he told people he would “keep working on the things you’re talking about that aren’t right. But first, we have to get the city back under control.”
Asked Tuesday what he has done to attack the systemic problems facing Baltimore, Hogan said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun: “I think we’ve done a lot. Obviously, we haven’t solved any of those problems. And I don’t think America has.”
He added: “I think a lot of the most recent things that are happening across America have brought to the surface a lot of those underlying problems that still exist in Baltimore and in every major city across America and in every part of our society, actually.”
The governor said the book is more a recollection of events and “is really not a deep political book.”
He said the memoir “talks about the details of exactly what happened during the riots. It doesn’t talk about all of the solutions to every problem in urban America or how we solve the problem of systemic racism. I would have to write several hundred more pages to do that.”
Hartley said the book “pulls a lot of levers that the Republican base would want to hear — decisive leadership, pro-police.” He said the book is also likely to attract criticism because of the tense political climate.
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 and ultimately decided against it.
Despite many national television appearances this year discussing the coronavirus, Hogan still faces a problem with being recognized nationally.
“He is not well-known. He is not known,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado-based independent pollster.
But Ciruli said there could be an opening for a new generation of Republican contenders after this November’s election.
“The minute this is over with, pretty much everybody will start an exploratory committee,” Ciruli said. “There will be a lot of centrists and moderates who are appreciative of some of the [Trump] policies but recognize he is a very flawed personality.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Emily Opilo contributed to this article.
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