Josh Kurtz: Unsolicited Job Advice for Larry Hogan

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. Wikipedia Commons photo

I am probably the last person Gov. Lawrence J Hogan Jr. (R) wants to take job advice from. But I’ll offer some anyway, because, well, why not?

As I patrol the halls of the State House and legislative buildings these days, the two questions I’m most asked are, “How are Mike and Mike doing?” and “What will Gov. Hogan do next?”

The Mike & Mike query refers, of course, to the shaky health of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). People are seeking – and tend to offer – health updates, based on the Mikes’ skin tone, the timbre of their voice, and their mobility on any given day. It is not a pretty thing when the state of the state legislature is defined by the medical condition of its leaders.

With Hogan, the question is precipitated by the newfound interest among national center-right thought leaders in the possibility, however slim, of our governor challenging President Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020.

Hogan is certainly enjoying the attention, and who can blame him? And he’s not adverse to talking to people about the possibility. But will he really run for president?

It seems doubtful, as long as the Republican Party is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump and his brand of politics. Hogan offers something else – a refreshing something, no doubt. But even if the bipartisanship and civility he’s peddling appeal to a certain segment of the electorate, it’s hardly enough to wrest the GOP nomination away from Trump in this day and age.

If anything, Hogan seems to be following the ideological path of such failed Republican presidential candidates as former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, and current Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Much as Hogan likes to say that he draws inspiration from more iconic Republican figures, like the late President George HW Bush, and the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Kasich-Huntsman-Alexander analogy seems more apt.

Hogan, in the current political environment, would have to undo a lot of what he’s built for himself in Maryland to be a viable candidate for the White House. Consider the case of Mitt Romney the erstwhile Massachusetts governor, who ran away from his record on Beacon Hill the minute he started running for president.

Many Hogan fans, and even some foes, suggest he’d be a solid candidate for U.S. Senate in 2022, when his gubernatorial term ends. That may be so, but it’s hard to imagine Hogan enjoying being one of a hundred senators in a dysfunctional and highly partisan Congress, after being one of the most powerful governors in the country. It’s equally hard to imagine him enjoying taking orders from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Hogan could be a formidable challenger to U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) in 2022, but at best he might have a 50 percent chance of winning. There is a reason no Republican has been elected to the U.S. Senate in Maryland since Charles “Mac” Mathias in 1980.

Elections for federal office are inherently different from elections for state offices. In much the same way that Hogan’s popularity didn’t translate into success for Republicans down the ballot in 2018, Hogan as a Senate candidate would be tarred by all that makes national Republicans unpopular in Maryland.

There is plenty of recent history in the U.S. of popular statewide officials running highly touted campaigns for Congress, only to lose badly because of the party label after their name on the ballot. In many states, that’s just too hard to overcome – and Hogan, for all his popularity, might face the same phenomenon.

Hogan’s singular brand works well as governor. But the minute he announces a Senate bid, he’ll have McConnell, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Cindy Hyde Smith et al dragging him down. Democrats will gleefully call them his running mates — and this time he won’t be able to duck, the way he has every time Democrats in the General Assembly lamely try to tie him to Trump. What’s more, Van Hollen is a formidable campaigner himself, well-known throughout the state and with a very loyal cadre of supporters, especially in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

It’s widely assumed that if Hogan does not run for another office, he’ll be content to go back to his real estate business and earn a lot of money. And maybe that’s so.

But here’s my big idea: Hogan ought to try to run the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A few caveats: The job’s not open, at least not yet. Thomas J. Donohue has been president and CEO since 1997 and shows no signs of slowing down. But he’s 81 now, so he won’t last forever.

Hogan seems like a great fit for the chamber. He’s stitched together a pro-business record, even with all those Democrats in Annapolis. Like Donohue, the son of an aluminum factory worker, he’s got a common touch, and an ability to talk to Main Street and Wall Street. He preaches bipartisanship, on his terms — which is something the chamber is trying to do, too.

The Chamber of Commerce headquarters, just across Lafayette Park from the White House, is a marble palace, and the president and CEO gets treated like a pasha. The chamber is trying to become more politically savvy – and Hogan’s got that in spades. Donohue, according to published reports, is paid upward of $5 million a year.

Hogan is just 23 days into a 1,461-day second term — so discussing his future seems, on one level, pretty absurd. And who’s to say what the national political dynamic is going to look like in the months and years ahead?

Hogan may never become the next leader of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it’s not such an absurd idea. And if it happens, you read it here first.

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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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