Can This Never Trumper Find a Future in the Republican Party?

Can This Never Trumper Find a Future in the Republican Party?

In February 2021, weeks after Jan. 6, Larry Hogan, who was then the Republican governor of Maryland and a frequent critic of Donald Trump, told Katie Couric that a battle for the soul of their party was underway — and that Trump’s influence was really, finally, diminishing.

He realizes that declaration was a little premature.

“I guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was,” Hogan told me this morning.

Hogan knows that his side of the party — what he calls “the Republican wing of the Republican Party” — lost that battle. He knows that many of his fellow Never Trumpers have lost re-election, decided to retire or changed their tune. And he is running for Senate anyway, gearing up for a fierce battle that will test whether there is any path forward for anti-Trump Republicans seeking federal office in 2024.

“I do feel a little bit like I’m running toward the burning building,” Hogan said. But, he added, “you can either give up and walk away or you can continue to try to fight to get things back to the place you want it to be.”

Hogan, 67, is a prized recruit who is expected to cruise to victory in tomorrow’s Maryland Senate primary. His surprise entrance into the race earlier this year turned his state into a legitimate Senate battleground — a cherry on the top of a Senate map that already favors Republicans.

As he campaigned this morning at the Double T Diner in Annapolis, Hogan made an obvious effort to keep his distance from the national party. He spoke warmly with Democrats in the diner, who had no idea he’d be stopping by, before heading to the restaurant’s back section, which was decorated with black-and-yellow campaign signs that said, “Country over party.”

But even the Hogan fans here worry that voters in this deep blue state will be loath to give Republicans another vote in the U.S. Senate.

“His biggest problem is not any of the other candidates,” said William Boulay, 71, a retired Navy commander and a Republican who was eating maple-syrup-soaked pancakes at Hogan’s event. “The biggest problem he has is Trump.”

Hogan was a little-known real estate executive when he won the governor’s race in 2014. He handily won re-election four years later and fashioned himself as a kind of Trump foil who fought with the president over the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Jan. 6 and the way Trump talked about Baltimore.

Hogan left office in January 2023 with a whopping 77 percent approval rating, according to one tracker.

Since then, he has frequently teased the idea of running for higher office. He flirted with the idea of running for president. This year, he said, he was subject to lobbying by the third-party group No Labels to join its ticket — but he decided against it.

“It wasn’t a party,” Hogan said. “They didn’t have the infrastructure.”

And while he was in New York talking with No Labels earlier this year, he said, he got a call from former President George W. Bush, who joined the chorus of Republicans urging him to consider running for the Senate.

Hogan said that Bush told him: “I think you’re an important voice for the party and for the country, and it’s a voice that’s missing.”

Around the same time, Hogan said, a deal that paired billions of dollars in new border security measures with aid for countries like Ukraine collapsed over Republican opposition — a development he found both frustrating and mystifying.

“I don’t understand some of the strain of the current Republican Party, where we’re isolationist, where we don’t want to stand up for our allies or stand up to our enemies,” he said, adding that modern-day Republicans were “more the politics of personality rather than actual ideas.”

He thinks his party will eventually get back to its “more traditional,” Reaganesque roots.

“I just don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen,” he said.

Hogan says that he won’t vote for Trump this year and that he has no plans to campaign with him. His strategy of keeping his distance from Trump contrasts with that of another pre-2016 figure making a big run this year: former Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire who is now running for governor there.

Ayotte, who broke with Trump in 2016 and narrowly lost re-election that year, endorsed him in March.

Hogan’s looming presence in the general election has turbocharged the Democratic primary, which has turned, as my colleague Luke Broadwater put it, into a nasty battle between Representative David Trone, the Total Wine & More magnate with immense personal wealth and cross-party appeal, and Angela Alsobrooks, a charismatic county executive who has drawn the backing of the state’s Democratic establishment.

Voters are wringing their hands over who seems best positioned to beat Hogan. A Washington Post poll in late March found that he had double-digit leads in head-to-head matchups with both Trone and Alsobrooks; other recent polls, though, have shown both Democrats with an advantage over Hogan.

Whoever emerges from the primary will have to contend with voters like Gisela Barry, 80, a Democrat who was overjoyed when Hogan came up to her table at the diner this morning.

“He would be a calming voice” in the Senate, Barry said, declaring that she would “absolutely” vote for him — although her conviction seemed to waver as she considered that doing so might hand Republicans more power during a second Trump presidency.

After President Biden’s narrow win in Georgia in 2020, Democrats thought they might have a new swing state on their hands — a hope that was buoyed by the victories of Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in 2021 and 2022. But The New York Times’s latest polling has sobering news for the state’s Democrats. I asked my colleague Maya King, who covers politics from Atlanta, to tell us more.

The latest New York Times/Siena College poll of battleground states found former President Donald Trump leading President Biden by 10 points among registered voters in a head-to-head matchup there.

Even more worrying for Georgia Democrats than the top-line number might be this: About 20 percent of Black voters back Trump. If that holds in November, it would be a stunning shift to Republicans by a key part of the Democratic base.

Some Democratic donors and political observers see Georgia as the most difficult battleground state for Mr. Biden. Without Stacey Abrams, the two-time candidate for governor, running a campaign and firing up her robust voter-turnout machine, or the galvanizing effect of Warnock or Ossoff being on the ballot, they argue, the president has a steeper challenge ahead. He won the state by about 12,000 votes four years ago.

Still, some point to Democrats’ apparent advantage on abortion and the sizable number of conservatives in Georgia who cast ballots for Nikki Haley as evidence that Trump is weak. They hope a summer of canvassing and an ad blitz will bring Black voters, suburban white women and young people into Democrats’ corner by the fall.

Maya King

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