A powerful Maryland supporter of President Trump is urging prominent Republicans to remain loyal to the president — and it appears to be working.
Republican National Committeman David Bossie, who served as deputy campaign manager for Trump in 2016 and remains an informal political adviser, has been reaching out to elected officials and other influential members of the state GOP by phone in recent days, hoping to head off any movement of support toward Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who is openly flirting with a White House bid in 2020.
Hogan, who has been wooed by conservatives opposed to Trump, has continued to boost his profile through national media interviews that frequently include criticism of the president and the Republican National Committee.
Several Republican officeholders in Maryland acknowledged in interviews on Monday that Bossie has contacted them to seek statements of support for the current occupant of the White House.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore, Harford) said defecting from the president “wasn’t ever an option” for her because “Hogan isn’t running.”
“He told a Maryland newspaper he’s not running, and I take him at his word,” she said. “I always support our presidential nominee, so yes, I’m supporting President Trump.”
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore, Harford) said he too received a call from Bossie and he also indicated he would support the president in the next election.
A few lawmakers said they would prefer to keep their focus on the legislation session now under way, particularly as the pace of activity ramps up.
“I’m trying to work with this governor at this point, to do the things we were elected for,” said Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington), who acknowledged receiving a call from Bossie. “I’m a policy wonk. That’s what I’m here for.”
He added: “I’m still trying to recover from the last election.”
Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick) said he too received a call. “He asked me if I would support the president and I said, ‘Yes, I’d be honored to support the president.’”
“Donald Trump is the incumbent and I always support the incumbent unless they have dramatically gotten away from the party’s platforms and principles, which he has not,” Hough added.
Bossie did not respond to email and phone messages left for him Monday at Citizens United, the conservative organization he runs in Washington, D.C. Nicolee Ambrose, the Republican National Committeewoman for Maryland, did not respond to email messages Monday. Dirk Haire, the state GOP chair, did not respond to a phone message.
Hogan, who becomes chair of the National Governors Association in July, travels to the key early caucus state of Iowa next week on NGA business – and may do a couple of meet-and-greets while there. And he is trying to add a trip to New Hampshire, which hosts the first 2020 presidential primary, sometime this spring.
In recent days Hogan has given interviews to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, The Washington Examiner and CBS News. His criticism of the president has been featured prominently in each article, and he has faulted the RNC for closing ranks behind the president, rather than remaining neutral in the primary.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 2016, has created an exploratory committee to possibly challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2020. But he is considered a longshot at best.
On Monday, Hogan faulted Bossie’s attempt to generate support for Trump among Maryland Republicans.
“These kind of heavy-handed tactics are not what we need in our politics. We should be focused on encouraging discussion and debate, not seeking to divide,” Hogan told the Post. “This is exactly why people are so fed up with Washington.”
Since 2000, Bossie has served as president of the conservative group Citizens United – made famous for challenging campaign finance restrictions and prevailing in the Supreme Court. That 2010 decision has transformed American politics and opened the door to almost unlimited political spending.
Bossie is also the co-author most recently of “Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State Is Undermining the Presidency.”
In 2016, Bossie knocked off Louis M. Pope, a longtime leader of the Maryland Republican establishment, to become the state’s national committeeman. “It showed that the status quo was broken, just like in Washington,” Bossie said in an interview at the time.
Hogan subsequently appointed Pope to a slot on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, where he still serves.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.