It appears Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is starting to get under President Trump’s skin.
The president made a passing reference to RINOs — Republicans in Name Only — during a lengthy and rambling COVID-19 briefing on Monday, though he left his audience to speculate about whom he was referring to.
To Maryland-based observers, it sure felt like a swipe at Hogan.
The state’s popular chief executive ― now serving as head of the National Governors Association ― has been making multiple appearances on 24-hour cable news and other national outlets for some time now. His appearances almost always include complaints that the federal government isn’t supplying states with the equipment they need to fight the pandemic.
“Hogan was just on CNN where he said, ‘Look, we appreciate the conversation with [Vice President Pence] but we don’t have everything we need,’” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“So when the president refers to a RINO Republican [governor] who isn’t happy, it’s really hard to imagine it’s anybody other than Hogan.”
Ostensibly the president was making the point that the nation’s governors are happy with the support they’re getting. But his phrasing — which hinted at an idea that he didn’t fully articulate — was imprecise.
“The governors are saying all good things,” Trump said, 61 minutes into his jousting with reporters. “But the Democrat governors and a couple of RINO’s, frankly, they’re RINO’s, that’s all they are, one RINO in particular, but the governors are saying great things.”
Who are the RINOs? And who is the particular RINO? Again, unclear.
Eberly said Trump’s partisan sword-swinging from the White House briefing podium in a time of crisis is profoundly troubling — and yet has become routine.
“He has turned them into a little bit of useful information from medical professionals and a whole bunch of him spinning and trying to rewrite the history of all of this,” he said.
“As someone who teaches this, I have never in my life seen anything like this. In the midst of a national crisis, for a president to — on a daily basis — try to rewrite the history of it, to present misleading, incomplete and downright false information, and to feel perfectly comfortable attacking members of his own party or members of the other party to try to make political points out of it, it’s just unprecedented.”
Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele was also convinced that Trump was irked at Hogan.
“What other Republican who is a governor would he be referring to?” said Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor.
Steele said bare-knuckled score-settling has been Trump’s “go-to” move “from the very beginning.”
“When he feels threatened in any fashion, he reverts to that because what he wants his base to then do is to rally around him, and to protect him, and to give him cover for the things he’s going to say and the actions he may take,” Steele said. “So it’s all very well orchestrated. I’m surprised people haven’t figured this shit out yet.”
Hogan has given Trump a lot to stew over.
At a time when Trump was downplaying the COVID-19 threat, Hogan recognized early on that a serious crisis was likely. (In the words of one observer, he was “the Republican who gets it.”)
The governor was the subject of glowing profiles in The New York Times and The Washington Post in the last three days. And the national talk show bookers have him on speed dial.
Trump is “annoyed that at least two governors — if not four or six of them — across the country have a better profile than he does,” said Steele, “because they have been more presidential in their response than he has. And while giving deference to him as president, they have also stood their ground.”
University of Virginia political scholar Larry Sabato noted that it’s odd for Trump — a relatively recent convert to the GOP — to be calling another Republican’s bona fides into question.
“I’m always amused when Trump uses the term RINO,” he said. “He wasn’t even a RINO for most of his life since he described himself as a liberal Democrat. Hogan has a long pedigree in the GOP.”
“Trump now considers himself the Grand Poobah of the Republican Party and the judge of who is a Republican. Remarkably, Republican leaders have gone right along as he attacks anybody on the left (Hogan) or right (Thomas Massie, for instance) who doesn’t please him.”
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