6 Takeaways From Larry Hogan’s Q&A With New York Times Columnist Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni, the well-respected New York Times columnist, published a lengthy and revealing interview with Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Sunday, getting Hogan to open up far more candidly on his political philosophy and strategy than most Maryland media outlets have succeeded in doing. The column, titled “Can Larry Hogan Save the Republicans?” in print and “Is the Republican Party Donald Trump’s — or Larry Hogan’s?” in a longer online version, explored Hogan’s political strengths, his prospects for reelection, and his long-term ambitions. Coming on the heels of Hogan’s nationally televised (on C-SPAN) appearance before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., last week, it appears as if there may be a concerted strategy to elevate Hogan’s national profile. The interview also appeared during a confluence of other events this weekend – the inadvertent release of a 1,400-page opposition research document against Hogan, first revealed late Friday in The Daily Record; the opening of Hogan’s campaign headquarters in Baltimore City, as the governor attempts to keep the Democrats playing defense on what should be friendly turf (and the Democrats’ aggressively attempt to push back); and the Democrats launching a statewide canvass to boost their gubernatorial nominee, former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous. If there was any doubt, the fall campaign is now well under way.  Frank Bruni  Hogan’s interview with Bruni wasn’t chock-full of revelations, necessarily, but it did take the long view of the governor’s political career and considered his potential ability to recapture the GOP from President Trump and his partisans. It also reinforced certain impressions of Hogan that, while not altogether surprising to people who have watched him operate through the years, haven’t been discussed much recently. The Maryland Democratic Party, predictably, jumped on aspects of the interview, particularly Hogan’s contention that Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump may be “going too far afield of its original intent.” “While Maryland Democrats in Congress are fighting to protect Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation and hold Russia accountable, Larry Hogan is attacking the legitimacy of the investigation and playing defense for Donald Trump,” said Fabion Seaton, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. “Maryland voters, who overwhelmingly disapprove of Donald Trump, deserve much better.” Will the Hogan camp consider the interview a net-plus? Will it make its way into the campaign’s regular release of positive news clips?  Bruni went out of his way to show that Hogan has governed in a bipartisan fashion and is trying to be a moderating force in the GOP. But Hogan also appeared churlish at times when Bruni pressed him on Trump. Regardless of your views about Hogan, the interview is fascinating and worth reading. Here are our six takeaways: Hogan spends a lot of time thinking about his poll ratings and popularity. In the interview, he joked about being the second most popular governor in the nation – just a tick behind Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another Republican governing a traditionally Democratic state. But Hogan clearly would like to be No. 1. “We’re friends,” Hogan said. “We text back and forth. I say, ‘Charlie, what do I have to do?’” Hogan would like to at least be mentioned when the conversation turns to possible future national Republican leaders – and candidates for president.  Asked whether he or Baker – or two other Republican governors who are considered centrists, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Phil Scott of Vermont – could win the GOP presidential nomination, Hogan lamented: “The conventional wisdom would be no. If you had open primaries and everyone was allowed to vote, they probably would vote for a centrist and somebody who could get along with both sides. But the primaries are controlled on both sides by activists who are more liberal or more conservative than the rest of their parties.” Later, he said: “What I see is people like Charlie Baker and me receiving overwhelming majorities. There’s a huge portion not just of Massachusetts and Maryland but America that really is crying out for moderation and a lack of divisiveness and civility and cooperation and bipartisanship. They’re not going to say, ‘Let’s continue doing this crazy.’ They’re going to be done with it.” Hogan has not gotten any more tolerant about being asked about Trump “I was hoping you were coming down to talk about me and, ‘Aren’t you the future of the Republican Party, and aren’t you the opposite of what’s happening in Washington, and are you going to save the Republican Party?’” he told Bruni.“Instead it’s Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. I went from two years of talking about just the things I did in my job, the things that people care about in this state. The media would ask me questions, and I’m very open with the media, but nothing outside the state ever came up. “As soon as Trump started to look like he was gaining traction in the campaign, every single question every single day from very single reporter was: ‘What about Trump?’ All of a sudden I had to answer questions about some guy from New York who’s running for president, and I’m here in Maryland and I’m not running for president.” Bruni asked Hogan about a college student he had heard from who generally admired the governor but wondered whether it was moral to vote for any Republican in the age of Trump. Hogan replied, “I think it would be immoral for him to take out his frustrations with Washington on the guy that he thinks is doing a good job in Maryland.” The legacy of Hogan’s father – the late congressman Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. (R) – remains a part of the governor’s political identity. And while his father was one of the first Republicans to publicly suggest that President Nixon had committed impeachable offenses, the younger Hogan isn’t there yet on Trump. “My dad was on the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of Nixon,” Hogan told Bruni. “He was the first Republican to call for his impeachment and was really the reason that Nixon resigned. He was the only Republican in Congress to vote for all three articles of impeachment. He was an F.B.I. agent. He saw all of the evidence, and after reviewing volumes of evidence, he decided that his president was guilty of impeachable offenses and should be removed from office. “I can’t sit in judgment. Whether I like what’s going on, the people overwhelmingly elected him as president.” Hogan will continue to use the ‘S’ word against Jealous. “He’s a far-left socialist who wants to increase the state budget by 100 percent, increase taxes by 100 percent, free everything,” Hogan said. “Almost all the Democrats in Maryland disagree with that.” Hogan’s discomfort with Trump notwithstanding, he’s still comfortable in the GOP. “Look, I’ve been a Republican since I was first registered to vote, since I was 18,” Hogan said. “I was right out of college when Reagan was running. I come from that kind of mold. Donald Trump was a Democrat until like three years ago, four years ago. He’s not a Republican.” Asked by Bruni whether he might consider taking a break from the GOP and call himself an independent, Hogan replied, “Independent-thinking and independent-minded — there’s no question I am. I still tend to identify with the Republican Party. I may not be a Trump Republican. But I don’t imagine he’s going to be around forever.” [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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