Larry Hogan Is Everywhere. What’s His Game? And Is There a Downside?

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," chatting on Wednesday night's program. Photo courtesy of "The Daily Show."

For six of the last eight Sundays, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has been a guest on one or more of the network talk shows.

On March 8 he was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” On March 29, he did “CBS Sunday Morning” and “Fox News Sunday.” Two weeks later, he was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.”

Maryland’s governor has also done multiple interviews with CNN, MSNBC, the PBS “NewsHour,” C-SPAN, Politico and others. On Thursday at 11 a.m. he is scheduled to appear on a Washington Post webinar on crisis leadership.

He’s also hitting less overtly political shows like “The View,” ABC’s weekday morning gal-pal talker, and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” where he told host Trevor Noah Wednesday night that U.S. governors are operating with “less politics than normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogan’s national TV appearances (22 in the last month) are cataloged by his political action committee, An America United, which often issues a news release highlighting his most recent interviews.

Because Hogan is head of the National Governors Association this year, it’s natural that talk show bookers would want him. Especially since he can get to Washington, D.C. — or networks can get a live truck to him in Annapolis — relatively easily.

There’s a political factor as well.

The federal government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been mixed, at best, and President Trump continues to offer erratic, error-filled — and occasionally dangerous — press briefings multiple times a week.

Hogan, by contrast, has been widely praised for his early actions, clear and consistent messaging, and his reliance on public health experts and science to guide his decisions.

On the surface, the governor is using the appearances to advocate on behalf of the states. He has urged Congress, for example, to boost funding and to allow greater flexibility in how federal funds are used. He forcefully rejected U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) suggestion that states be encouraged to file for bankruptcy.

He has also pushed established public health advice and a cautious, science-based approach to reopening the economy. And he has defended governors of both parties who have been criticized by the president.

But is there something else afoot?

Is Hogan, a term-limited chief executive who turns 64 next month, positioning himself for life after his second term?

He has obviously thought about running for president. When he traveled to New Hampshire last April to speak at the high-profile Politics & Eggs breakfast at St. Anselm College, it wasn’t for the eggs.

Many observers believe he will strongly consider a Senate run in 2022, the last year of his tenure in Annapolis and the year Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) is up for re-election.

Hogan himself isn’t saying, of course, and why should he? He need not make any decision for many months. He’s got a major public health crisis to contend with. And he probably hasn’t decided what he wants to do next.

But that hasn’t stopped the speculation — or the general sense that his conspicuous brand-building and media-heavy schedule are in pursuit of something.

In interviews with elected officials and strategists from both parties, in Maryland and beyond, the following possibilities emerge:

  • A presidential run in 2024. If Trump implodes this fall, as appears quite possible, the Republican Party could be in the mood for something very different next time. Hogan publicly rejected candidate Trump in 2016 and is one of the only Republicans in elected office with the courage to criticize the president’s handling of the crisis. He will be able to claim that — in both substance and style — he represents the ultimate break from Trumpism (though notably, Hogan praises Vice President Mike Pence regularly for his role in guiding the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response).
  • A crisis management or communications consulting gig. Under this scenario, Hogan uses his response to the Baltimore riots in 2015, his own cancer battle that same year and his handling of a historic health challenge to advise governors and mayors on how to handle crisis. (A less polarizing, more grounded version of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani after the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes.)  Lots and lots of five- and six-figure speeches and all the Sunday talk shows he could want, most likely as a paid “political analyst.”
  • The token Republican in a Biden cabinet. Most presidents have one cabinet member from the other party, and former vice president Joe Biden, a creature of the Senate who has boasted of his ability to work across the aisle, is certain to have at least one Republican on his team. Secretary Hogan would get a security detail, a respectable portfolio and a gig after Annapolis, which will surely start to seem small once the coronavirus crisis passes. He could do worse.
  • A run for the United States Senate. Hogan could run in 2022 against Van Hollen or in 2024. The latter election would put him up against Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), unless the veteran lawmaker, who will be 81 on Election Day, 2024, decides to retire. While he’d relish the opportunity to defeat a popular Democrat — just as he boasts of being only the second Republican governor to win a second term in Maryland history — it’s less clear that he’d enjoy life in the Senate.

Return to the private sector. Hogan once told an associate that he wanted to make a lot of money and reduce his workload following his second term, but that was before the adrenaline rush of being both a wartime governor and one of the nation’s most prominent Republican critics of an off-the-rails president.

Former New Hampshire attorney general Thomas D. Rath (R), no fan of Trump, believes that governors will be in a much better position than Washington-based leaders in the next cycle.

“Governors are technicians,” said Rath. “They can open up the engine and tell what’s wrong. That level of precision breeds confidence.”

“The governors who are making a mark [in this crisis] are people who are in there, who are not afraid to make decisions, and know their state — and that’s going to get them attention,” he added. “Hogan is clearly one of those.”

Tim Miller, a California-based communications consultant who served as senior adviser to an anti-Trump PAC and in top positions for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and the Republican National Committee, wishes that Hogan (“an interesting character within the party”) had pulled the trigger on a 2020 challenge to the president.

“There is a very small list of competent people who have maintained their integrity within the party during the era of Trump,” he said. Hogan “is at or near the top of the small list. Having media presence to speak from that perch has value.”

Maryland Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has known Hogan since the governor was a child, thinks he will run for Senate — either in ’22 or ’24.

Miller noted that Hogan — like his father, former congressman and Prince George’s County executive Larry Hogan Sr. (R) — is willing to buck his party, a scenario replaying itself as the governor angers both his base and GOP lawmakers with his cautious timeline for allowing businesses to reopen.

“If I’m still around for either of those two [Senate] races, I’ll fight vigorously for both of ‘em,” said Miller, who is battling cancer. “But Hogan will give them a very, very tough race for sure.”

“Larry has a great faith in polling and finding out what the people want to hear,” Mike Miller added. “That’s been the story of his life. Reflect what the people think, and at the same time what he thinks is best.”

If Hogan does run for office in Maryland when his term ends, he could end up with a primary battle. Republicans in the General Assembly are getting an earful from their constituents about Maryland’s restrictions on businesses and social interaction, and they have lobbied him publicly to ease off, to no avail.

Hogan’s Facebook feed is chock full of criticism from Marylanders who call him a RINO — a Republican in Name Only — and who want him to back off the TV appearances. Some have argued online that his elevated national profile does not benefit Maryland. Many are livid over the business closings and the balky rollout of the state’s new unemployment insurance portal.

It’s been plainly apparent that while Hogan’s response to initial outbreak of the virus — marshaling the state’s resources in a military-style response, complete with National Guard officers in battle fatigues and initiatives branded with names worthy of military campaigns — has been exemplary, his performance addressing the accompanying economic crisis is less sure-footed so far.

On Wednesday, Rep. Andrew P. Harris, a physician and the only GOP member of Maryland’s congressional delegation — and a vocal ally of Trump’s — toured Queen Anne’s County businesses that “are ready to reopen,” a clear swipe at Hogan’s amorphous timeline.

Many national strategists scoff at the notion that Hogan — a jobs-and-taxes governor who has shown little appetite for fights over social issues — could ever find a lane in a national Republican contest.

But Rath, the former New Hampshire AG, sees a day of sober self-reflection ahead.

“The Republican Party needs to take a good hard look at itself and I think the go-to people — like Hogan and [New Hampshire Gov.] Chris Sununu (R) and [Massachusetts Gov.] Charlie Baker (R) — after this fling we’ve had with this strong personality, I think competence is really going to matter,” he said.

“It’s not terribly sexy but I think it’s really going to matter coming down the road and clearly Gov. Hogan is one of those people who’s put himself in a position to say ‘look what I did.’”

One veteran strategist said the most likely scenario is that Hogan has no idea what he intends to do next, and that the best approach is to make the most of the opportunities this moment brings.

“If I was Larry Hogan’s adviser, my advice to him would be do everything you can to create every option you can.”

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