Josh Kurtz: The GOP vs. Larry Hogan

The latest episode of the podcast "Mark and the Millennials," which is hosted by state Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert). Screenshot.

It’s sometimes said in politics that if you go far enough left on the political spectrum or far enough right on the political spectrum, the two sides will meet.

That statement came to mind last week as certain members of the Republican caucus in the House of Delegates offered blistering criticisms of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. What was striking was that they often sounded like Democratic critiques of Hogan’s tenure.

Since the election, a lot of media attention understandably has been focused on Democratic infighting and finger-pointing at the national level, since the Democrats’ hopes of major gains in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House fell woefully and embarrassingly short. The progressives blame the moderates, and vice-versa.

It is possible, strange as sounds, that both sides may be right.

Either way, these arguments are likely to continue as President-elect Joe Biden puts together his administration, careful to balance the demands of the Democratic left and the center. We can only speculate on where these internal arguments go and whether Biden’s institutionalism and abundance of caution is a wise long-term strategy.

But as Democrats wage their in-the-tent wars, Maryland Republicans are continuing their own internal slugfest. For months, the most conservative Republicans in the state have railed against Hogan’s restrictions on travel and commerce as the coronavirus rages out of control. Maryland’s lone GOP member of Congress, Rep. Andrew P. Harris, has been a regular Hogan critic, and some state House Republicans have filed or joined lawsuits against Hogan.

Last week, a few House Republicans amped up their criticism. In an op-ed piece in The Carroll County Times, Del. Haven Shoemaker (R-Carroll) called Hogan “Liberal Larry” and “Lockdown Larry” and accused the governor of setting up a “snitch hotline” that allows Marylanders to call in crowd-size violations to law enforcement authorities.

Shoemaker seemed most offended by Hogan’s decision to stand alongside “fellow Liberal Johnny Olszewski,” the Baltimore County executive, at a news conference last week, admonishing Marylanders, in Shoemaker’s words, “against congregating with friends and family for the holidays.”

Even more extraordinary, Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) dedicated the entirety of the most recent episode of his podcast, “Mark and the Millennials,” to blasting Hogan. Del. Brian A. Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) joined him.

Some conservative pique at Hogan stems from his long-standing criticism of President Trump, and their complaints have only gotten more bitter as Hogan wasted no time congratulating Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris and urging Trump to concede. That he would do so on liberal media outlets like CNN and MSNBC — “the fake news,” Fisher called it — only fuels their outrage.

“You’re disenfranchising 70 million Republican voters,” Chisholm added.

Fisher and Chisholm even suggested that Hogan’s much-hyped decision to write in Ronald Reagan for president was in effect casting a vote for the Democratic ticket, including, in Fisher’s words, “a communist” like Harris.

Well, OK.

Hogan is a “never-Trumper,” and the majority of Maryland Republicans, even with Hogan’s high levels of popularity, are big Trump fans. So that’s an unbridgeable divide right there.

What’s more interesting, though, is when legislative Republicans criticize Hogan’s broader record — and especially his purchase of $9 million worth of COVID-19 test kits from a South Korean company, which, according to Washington Post reporting, proved to be balky at best.

Fisher was incredulous, accusing Hogan of “grandstanding” over the test kits — “and when he grandstanded, he couldn’t deliver,” he said.

“I know that this is a topic of interest for the Maryland General Assembly, and it should be,” Shoemaker wrote in his Carroll County Times op-ed.

Shoemaker went on to assess Hogan’s record, in part by comparing him with Trump.

“With regard to his critiques of the President, they are interesting given the fact that their egos are similarly large,” he said. “Tragically, that’s where the similarities end, because like him or hate him, the president has actually accomplished a lot. In six years, Larry Hogan has accomplished virtually nothing, other than keeping a lid on taxes for the most part.”

That analysis could have been delivered by just about any of the 131 Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly. The criticism of the Korean test kits sounds a lot like state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), who has been the biggest critic of Hogan administration personnel policies and could wind up leading any legislative investigation of the test kit purchase. The notion that Hogan hasn’t done very much besides hold the line on taxes is a frequently heard Democratic criticism as well.

On his podcast, Fisher argued that Hogan’s centrist, bipartisan schtick was sure to fail, and he used a variation of the line uttered by legendary progressive Texas Democrat Jim Hightower, that “there’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.”

Fisher went on, fancifully, to suggest that Hogan can’t even be called a RINO anymore because he’s essentially behaving as a Democrat and may well become one.

“I’m Larry Hogan — I’ll throw the Republican Party under the bus all day long,” Chisholm said.

He said this before Hogan published a commentary in The Washington Examiner Monday, calling on Georgia voters to re-elect the two Republican senators who are fighting for their political lives in Jan. 5 runoff elections, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

His op-ed, incredibly, says nothing about Perdue or Loeffler, who have proven to be grifters and small-minded, craven Trump evangelicals. But Hogan recounts his own story about running for governor in 2014 because he was “fed up with career politicians in my state who had unchecked power to raise taxes and destroy our economy,” and the commentary advances Hogan’s preferred narrative about bipartisanship and the danger of political monopolies. If the Democrats win those special elections, they will control the White House and both houses of Congress.

“Divided government is not automatically preferable to unified government, but does anyone really believe we will be better off today if either political party is given unchecked control in Washington?” asked Hogan, who has blasted congressional Democrats and Republicans in equal measure for the past few years. “In the November election, Americans made it clear that they don’t.”

We’ve said it before: Hogan’s political instincts are sterling and he has a gift for placing himself right in the center of where overwhelming majorities of Marylanders are politically. It’s enough to win equally high marks in most polls from Republicans, Democrats and independents — no mean feat.

But let’s face it: Hogan’s election in 2014 was in many ways a reaction to the activist agenda of his predecessor, former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) and part of the reason Hogan remains so popular is that he has done so little during his time in office. For Hogan, maintaining his popularity has been an end in and of itself, rather than the means by which he can push through any kind of ambitious agenda.

In that respect, when it comes to their assessment of Larry Hogan, both the left and the right are right.

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