By Richard J. Cross III
Harry Truman famously said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.”
I have been thinking a lot about this quote as I contemplate former Congressman, Prince George’s County Executive, and proud gubernatorial father Larry Hogan Sr., who passed away at 88 last week.
Specifically, as one who reads and learns from history, I am intrigued by some of the parallels and differences between father, son, and the two controversial presidents with whom each contended, and the mutual challenges of being a Republican from a solidly blue state such as Maryland.
One relationship is a well-reported matter of history; the other is a work in progress. Nonetheless, knowledge of the former may help us better understand the latter.
The story starts in 1966. Owner of a successful consulting business, Hogan was defeated in his first bid for office in a strongly Democratic, Prince George’s County-centric congressional district.
Along the way he attracted the notice and support of Richard Nixon, who was engaged in his own comeback strategy. At one point, Nixon dispatched his daughters to campaign with the elder Hogan.
He prevailed in 1968. Hogan was easily re-elected in the ensuing elections, and maintained a warm relationship with the president.
Then, the Watergate tsunami came.
History remembers the elder Hogan for his impassioned, principled statement in front of the House Judiciary Committee, and for being the first Republican in 1974 to come out for the president’s impeachment, for which he voted in favor a total of three times.
On a lark, I went back and looked at Nixon’s memoirs to see what he had to say on the subject.
The embittered former president actually had little to say about the committee statement itself, but groused about a press conference Hogan had the day before repeating the same basic themes.
He accused Hogan of “jumping the gun” to gain “maximum publicity” for his “faltering” gubernatorial campaign. “In San Clemente we tried to minimize the damage Hogan caused by concentrating on the many people who criticized him and his motives,” Nixon wrote. “But the fact was that he had dealt us a very bad blow.”
Nixon’s comments should be taken in proper historical context.
So should Hogan’s actions.
From an ethical standpoint, the choice was obvious. Politically Hogan was in a no-win situation. Staying silent on impeachment would have doomed him with Democrats; speaking out harmed him with Republicans in a year hostile to Republicans, anyway.
The governor’s father made the smart and correct decision under very difficult circumstances. He lost the Republican gubernatorial primary that year, but he went on to serve a term as Prince George’s County executive, and now occupies a place in the pantheon of Maryland’s political statesmen.
Now, skip ahead to 2016.
The younger Hogan won a surprise victory in 2014. He learned from recent experience that GOP governors of Maryland have little to gain by wading into national politics, and he took that lesson to heart.
Donald Trump was regarded by most Marylanders as an aberration, as well as a toxic presence on the body politic. Skipping the party’s convention in Cleveland and the balance of the presidential election was – again – the smart and correct decision for Hogan.
His decision angered some party activists – I have heard stories about state GOP headquarters being flooded with angry calls – not to mention Trump himself. But in the end, despite whatever bad feelings it caused, it won’t translate into the kind of pernicious primary backlash his father faced in 1974.
I see two differences between the situations faced by the two respective Hogans.
First, the elder Hogan had a relationship with Nixon during his own political ascent, making his own seeming apostasy a complicated issue. By comparison, the younger Hogan owes Trump nothing for his success.
Second, unlike his father and Nixon, Gov. Hogan now has to govern with President Trump. This unleashes a series of complex problems, especially when certain Maryland-specific priorities such as Chesapeake Bay funding, the FBI headquarters, and Medicaid expansion are considered.
So how should Gov. Hogan deal with President Trump during the governance phase of their emerging relationship?
First, be realistic. No one actually believes that a vengeful Trump will site the FBI headquarters in Maryland. Anyone who believes otherwise is subject to rope-a-dope thinking.
Second, pick the battles carefully. A rolling feud with a GOP president does not serve the governor’s interests any more than embracing him now does.
Third, continue to avoid taking the bait offered by Democrats clumsily and ineffectively trying to associate him with unpopular Trump positions. It failed during the recent legislative session, and will continue to – though pressures to respond will likely increase as time goes on.
Fourth, start campaigning now. Midterm elections tend to go poorly for those of the president’s party running for re-election. Come 2018, events in 2016 will be a distant memory. In other words, Hogan’s GOP status may be more relevant than whether he went to Cleveland.
George Santayana said that, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Gov. Hogan speaks passionately of the life lessons he learned from his dad. Given current circumstances, the elder Hogan’s political journey is especially relevant as well.
Richard J. Cross III, a member of the Maryland Matters steering committee, is a former Capitol Hill and Annapolis press secretary and speechwriter. He resides in Baltimore. His e-mail address is [email protected].