Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has spent the better part of the last five years walking a fine line.
A high-level elected official who routinely declares himself fed up with politics, he has been careful to chart a centrist course on policy — conservative enough to retain the support of his party, but sufficiently middle of the road to win, and retain, the affection of majority Democrats.
Hogan’s adroitness was on full display during an interview on CNN on Monday night, as he repeatedly disavowed any interest in challenging President Trump in 2020, even though that was clearly the reason the network invited him on in the first place.
“I haven’t been one of these folks that are just out there trying to bash the president every day on every single issue,” he told Erin Burnett, host of “OutFront.”
“You know I haven’t been dying to get on CNN every night and just criticize the president.”
And yet, there he was, appearing on a cable news show during a coveted time slot, 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. in Des Moines!), preaching the gospel of “common sense,” results-oriented leadership.
“I’m flattered that people are talking about that, Erin,” Hogan said of efforts to entice him into the race. “But I haven’t really given much thought to that at all. I was sworn in to my second term just a few weeks ago, and I have every intention, at this point, of continuing to work as hard as I can for the people of Maryland.”
The pro-Hogan chatter from Republicans opposed to Trump “is really not something that I’ve been behind,” he said.
Yet the governor’s live interview came on the same day that CNN.com ran a sharply worded Hogan op-ed in which he takes both Trump and congressional Democrats to task for demagoguing the issue of immigration and refusing to compromise.
He rejected Trump’s claims that the border region is in crisis and that Mexico will pay for a wall. He also accused Democrats of flip-flopping on border security and pandering to the left wing of the party.
“We do need the $5.7 billion — and likely much more — to help us to secure our border,” Hogan wrote.
“Once the funding is approved, let’s ensure that the security experts, not the politicians, decide how best to secure the different sections of our border, which vary greatly in terms of terrain, existing resources, and unique challenges and risks.”
On air, he said it is imperative that leaders reach agreement on border security before government funding expires on Feb. 15 (congressional negotiators said late Monday that they had reached a compromise, though it isn’t clear if Trump will agree to it).
“I want to see them sit down and try to negotiate a real bipartisan solution here. … We’re four days away from another crisis.”
Although Hogan repeatedly refused to accept the premise that he was there to discuss a potential White House bid, Burnett pressed him repeatedly.
“When do you expect to make a decision, Governor, if you will run or not?”
“Look,” he responded, “I really have been focused on the state of Maryland, and focused on trying to talk about how do we come up with bipartisan, common-sense solutions. Because I’m concerned about the broken politics in America.”
“Most people in America are just completely frustrated with this angry divisive politics. And they’re really frustrated with this dysfunction in Washington where nothing gets done.”
After watching the interview, Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, acknowledged that Hogan treads a fine line, wanting not to discourage talk of a potential White House bid without explicitly embracing it.
“When you think about it, there are so few people to ever reach the point in their career where folks are actually talking about them potentially being a presidential candidate, as if they would be a credible candidate,” he said.
“I have to imagine it’s an incredibly hard thing to just say ‘no’ to. People don’t go into politics because they’re hesitant for advancement or they don’t see themselves as someone who can actually lead.”
At the end of the interview, Burnett praised Hogan for his “common sense and calm.”