Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Monday urged President Trump to accept defeat in the 2020 election and criticized the federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s once again raging across the country and in Maryland ― and cast himself as a common sense White House candidate for 2024 in the mold of President Reagan.
In comments at the Ronald Reagan Institute, Hogan never directly addressed the question of whether he would run for president in 2024, but fielded questions about how he would navigate a Republican presidential primary and about the future of the GOP.
During a 20-minute address and a 35-minute Q&A session, Hogan said an “exhausted majority” of Americans are looking for less divisiveness in their political leaders.
“We cannot afford to continue to perpetuate toxic politics. America is at a critical crossroads. Unless we begin to change the self-destructive course that both parties are on, this mess will just repeat itself all over again in 2024,” Hogan said.
In the 2020 election, Hogan faced harsh criticism for casting a write-in presidential ballot for Reagan, who has been dead for 16 years.
But in a glowing introduction on Monday, Roger Zakheim, the Reagan Institute’s director, described Hogan as “a man who through pragmatic, principled and patriotic leadership has carried the flame of our 40th president.”
“After four years of smart governance guided by Reaganesque optimism and leadership with a focus on economics and education, it wasn’t so stunning when he cruised to reelection in 2018. But now, the governor’s term-limited and will be out of office after 2022,” Zakheim said before Hogan delivered prepared remarks. “So the question on many minds is this: Can he shock the political world again?”
Asked how he would get through a Republican presidential primary, Hogan said the “proof is in the pudding.” He made it through a 2014 GOP primary in Maryland against candidates that were running to his right, “but voters decided they wanted to win the general election.”
Hogan said he was building a Reaganesque coalition to get elected in Maryland, while Trump “was doing a reality show.”
He noted that Trump “did an excellent job of reaching the common average working person … but then turned off young voters, suburban women and every other demographic, whereas Reagan was able to bring them all together.”
“We don’t lose that many incumbent presidents very often,” Hogan shrugged at one point during the conversation.
Regarding Trump’s Sunday night tweet ― “I WON THE ELECTION!” ― Hogan said “the time has come” for the president to accept the election results.
“More and more people, very close supporters and friends of the president, are all giving him that advice, he’s just not listening.”
Regarding election fraud, Hogan said there may be small pockets of ballot problems ― “a dozen votes here or a couple hundred votes here and there” ― that should be investigated to protect election integrity, but there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
“We’re not going to make up for 5 million votes in all of those states. It was a pretty overwhelming victory at this point,” Hogan said. “You know, last time the president didn’t win the popular vote and he had less electoral votes than Biden does, and he called it a landslide.”
Hogan said Trump was defeated not just because he’s brash and has “a kind of loose affiliation with the truth sometimes,” but also because he didn’t deliver on campaign trail promises.
“Even though we had a Republican Congress in both houses for two years … there were a lot of things that didn’t get done,” Hogan said.
On COVID, the governor criticized Trump’s leadership, saying his public statements negated the work of a nationally coordinated task force and that economic strife could have been avoided if wearing masks hadn’t been politicized.
“If we just wore the masks, we wouldn’t have to shut any businesses. But we didn’t,” Hogan said.
Now, he said, the Trump administration should be doing more to provide incoming Biden administration officials with information about the federal pandemic response.
“There’s no transition. They won’t give the information,” Hogan said. “…We’re in the middle of a war, and we don’t know who the general’s going to be. We don’t know what the game plan is. And we can’t wait until the end of January. 200,000 people are going to die between now and the inauguration. We have to get on it now.”
Hogan added that Congress “played politics and went on vacation” instead of passing additional stimulus funding in response to COVID-19.
While that brought congressional failures into stark relief, Hogan said “the failure of Washington is made manifest in the failure of bridges, failing public health and failing schools.”
“In Washington people on both sides refuse to give up even a little to get a lot done. Roads and bridges crumble while Democrats and Republicans insult each other on social media,” Hogan said. “…The average citizen is completely fed up with politics as usual. They think that Washington has been fiddling while America burns.”
As for the Republican Party, Hogan said GOP leaders need to dramatically shift rhetoric “if we want to win national elections again.”
He compared the state of the party now to the way it was in 1976 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
“In 1980, just four years after the predicted demise of the GOP, Reagan led our party to one of the largest landslides in American history and then went on to truly make America great again. After this divisive election, we find ourselves again at a crossroads for our party and at a critical time for our nation,” Hogan said. “As we search for a way forward, we should look back at how Ronald Reagan transformed our party and restored the greatness of America.”
Hogan said more moderate messages were already proving to work among the electorate, pointing to winning candidates he endorsed this election, including Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and three center-right members of the House of Representatives.
Hogan made points about his own electability, noting his support among different demographic groups ― including suburban women ― and pointing out that he became just the second two-term Republican governor in state history during a midterm election in 2018 that saw Republican losses nearly across the board.
“I did it by reaching out to everyone. Including those who had never even considered voting for a Republican before. In some places they had never even seen a Republican before,” Hogan said.
Hogan sounded many of the same themes — and tried to draw strong connections between himself and Reagan — in an opinion column that was published Monday in USA Today.
“I still believe, as President Reagan did, that America is the last best hope of man on earth,” Hogan concluded in his column. “And the best hope of our nation is a Republican Party that once again looks outside of Washington for answers.”