Frank DeFilippo: Trump’s Breadcrumb Trail is the Path Cox Hopes to Take in GOP Primary for Governor

Del. Daniel L. Cox (R-Frederick). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The 2022 Republican primary election for governor could be Gov. Larry Hogan vs. Donald Trump all over again.

Kelly Schulz may be carrying the banner of Hogan and Republican moderates into next year’s primary election for governor, but Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), a political fringe figure, believes he’s Maryland’s sequel to Donald Trump but could, instead, be a generous gift to Democrats.

Hogan spent the entire 2016 and 2020 election seasons disparaging and ultimately rejecting Trump, but when the noise died down, Trump prevailed in 2016, winning the party primary every subdivision in the state, some by sizeable margins.

To roughly paraphrase Shakespeare, comparisons suck. Trump wasn’t on the ballot, nor was he directly involved in the recent California recall election. But Trumpism was, in the reincarnated form of talk-show host Larry Elder, who, like his avatar, proved to be all blather and babble.

Trumpism’s coattails were scissored. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) beat back the wacky recall election with walloping 64 percent of the vote and a convincing affirmation of his strict pandemic policies on masking and vaccinations to protect the public health.

Here in Maryland the learning curve is still a limp arc and Trump’s word lingers in some benighted corners of the state. The counties where Trump scored his biggest votes in 2016 are the very same subdivisions where jabs and masks are viewed as the devil’s stab and disguise.

In the 2016 field of 11 GOP presidential candidates in Maryland, Trump racked up 54.1% percent of the vote, or 248,343 votes. His closest competitor was John R. Kasich, with 106,614 votes (23.2%) and next down the list was Sen. Ted Cruz, with 87,093 votes (19%).

Trump’s heaviest harvest of votes were in Anne Arundel (32,081), Baltimore County (38,247), Carroll (16,942), Frederick (16,011), Harford (22,376), Howard (12,238) Montgomery (19,689) and Washington (12,352).

Cox has gone full Trump. The correlation is significant as that is the path that Cox intends to follow. And it also may be the reason why Michael Steele, the TV commentator and former lieutenant governor, is straddling the fence as he ruminates over whether the join the contest for governor. And, oh, by the way, that perennial pain-in-the-butt, Robin Ficker, did not disappoint. He’s also a candidate.

Here is a sampler of Cox’s agenda from his “Dan Cox for Governor” website: He begins with an endorsement from Doug Mastriano, whom he describes as “America’s most beloved state senator.”

Mastriano is the Pennsylvania state senator who led the drive to overturn Joe Biden’s election as president in that state. Cox served as lawyer with Trump’s legal team in Philadelphia. (The Pennsylvania legislature recently approved an audit of last year’s election, including the power to subpoena voters’ personal records.) The Cox agenda follows, in part:

“Protect our God-given rights to life, liberty and property, including Bill of Rights protected freedoms such as First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. The people must be free from overreaching and invasive government controls.

“Provide parents with choice of educational opportunities and honor parental rights to end the divisive CRT and make our schools free from political or ideological indoctrination.

“Ensure election integrity, order a forensic audit and protect people’s right to choose their representatives with one person, one legal vote. I will submit a legislative package to require a valid citizen voter I.D., end universal mail-in ballots and order a forensic audit of the 2020 election.”

But hold your horses! Cox’s documented agenda may read as American as freedom and money but it contains all of the appropriate Trumpian dog-whistle phrases and issues that excite the right-wing Republican base but none of which is active or in dispute in general in Maryland, a 2-1 Democratic state. Cox’s issues would probably resonate better in Texas or Idaho.

Cox, on another occasion, accused Hogan of suspending the Bill of Rights by requiring “face coverings” as part of the antidote to the coronavirus. He introduced a bill, according to reports, to ban any requirement to show proof of “a medical examination, vaccination, a medical test or any other medical information” for employment or travel. And he would allow parents to reject the vaccination of children as a requirement for attendance at school.

Cox led a group of constituents to the Trump-inspired rally — or riot — on Jan. 6, and called then-Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for refusing to block certification of Biden’s election. This led to calls for his expulsion from the General Assembly by the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee. (Pence’s role in the certification of Biden’s election has been called into question in a new book, “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.)

Cox won the Republican nomination to Congress from the 8th District in 2016 — on the same ticket as Trump — but was defeated by Rep. Jamie Raskin who, in one of those toothsome twists, was a leader in the two impeachment trials of Trump, Cox’s hero.

Without totally exonerating Maryland, it is cathartic to remember that in Cecil County, the Ku Klux Klan was still regularly burning crosses well into the 1960s; there was, until recently, an active cell of the KKK in Carroll County; Garrett County for years actively fought fluoridation of its drinking water as a poisonous conspiracy; and the nine Eastern Shore counties exempted themselves from the state’s public accommodations law in 1963.

Though the full Republican ballot is not yet settled, Schulz — and Hogan — had better be vigilant and careful. With an agenda like Cox’s, and the breadcrumb trail that Trump left in Maryland, Cox could easily win the Republican primary in a low turnout non-presidential election year.

Schulz, like Cox, is from Frederick which she represented in the House of Delegates. She joined the Hogan administration as secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and is now secretary of Commerce.

Here’s a paragraph from Schulz’s website that is generic and benign compared to Cox’s thunderclap fulminations:

“I’m running for governor so we can continue to build upon all of our past successes and fulfill the great promise and potential of our state. Together, we can get Marylanders working, help our struggling families and small businesses, and restore and strengthen our economy.”

Not a hint of Trumpian falsities or conspiracies in that or the entire 5-paragraph statement of Schulz’s candidacy. But Schulz had better toughen her talk if she hopes to combat Cox’s grab-‘em-by-the-throat messaging.

Republican primary elections are notoriously low in delivering voters in primary elections — there are only 998,749 of them as opposed to 2.261 million Democrats — because there rarely is competition at the top of the ballot.

Yet there are 13 Maryland counties where Republicans outnumber Democrats — Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Talbot, Washington and Worcester. Cox, an attorney, is secretary to the Republican Central Committee in Frederick County where there are 74,616 Democrats and 68,009 Republicans, though much of the county falls into the conservative column.

Democrats, the I-95 corridor party, could not be more thrilled than to have Cox in the race as they hope to reclaim the governorship after eight years on the outside looking in. They can only pray that he remains in the contest — and wins the primary. Trump lost Maryland in 2020 by 33.2% — Biden’s 1.985 million votes to Trump’s 976,414.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.