When Maryland Republican Party chair Dirk Haire and Rep. Andy Harris approached Bob Ehrlich about leading the GOP’s “2022 Victory campaign,” the former governor said he would be happy to do it.
The party announced Ehrlich’s new role in a media release in which Haire called for Republicans to come together following the July 19 primary.
“Now that we have nominees, we look forward to a spirited and unified front as our candidates fight for freedom and limited, efficient government in Maryland,” Haire said. “The Party looks forward to supporting all of our nominees up and down the ballot, just as the Party supported all of our nominees in all previous cycles.”
Party leaders often work to bring activists together following primaries, particularly bruising ones. Yvette Lewis, the head of the Maryland Democratic Party, got dozens of top office-holders to attend a large rally last Monday in Silver Spring. (What made the event a standout success were the rousing endorsements that gubernatorial hopefuls Tom Perez and Peter Franchot offered Wes Moore.)
Uniting fractious Maryland Republicans may turn out to be a heavier lift.
Left unsaid in the GOP announcement was the awkward situation the party finds itself in as it pivots toward the general election. The most popular Republican in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, has declared publicly that gubernatorial nominee Del. Dan Cox and Michael Peroutka, the attorney general candidate, are unelectable due to their fringe views.
Last year Hogan called Cox “a QAnon whack job,” a line he has repeated with gusto on multiple occasions — and Cox returned the favor with a brief attempt to have Hogan impeached in February.
The governor said Peroutka has even less chance of winning than Cox. “We actually have a secessionist white supremacist running for attorney general,” he said. “So it couldn’t get much worse.”
Although neither Haire nor Harris would comment for this story, it’s clear they view Ehrlich, an affable former governor and congressman, as the best available substitute for Hogan as they try to bring the party together.
“This is no time for division – the stakes are too high,” Haire said in his news release, “and we urge all of our nominees, unsuccessful primary candidates, and their supporters to unify and support all of our Republican candidates on to victory in November.”
Mark Uncapher, secretary of the Maryland GOP, said Ehrlich is “clearly a towering statesman within the party and [he] has support across the party.”
“The primary is over and the focus will be increasingly on contrasting the Democratic nominee, Wes Moore, with the Republican nominee,” Uncapher said.
In an interview, Ehrlich said his job is to be “the unity guy,” but he made it clear he views his role to be somewhat narrow. He said he will not be popping up on the local news, handling post-debate spin room duties, or serving as an ambassador for the controversial duo at the top of the GOP ticket.
Rather, he said, he intends to dedicate the bulk of his time to fundraising for GOP candidates up and down the ballot.
“I’m a party elder,” he said. “I was approached by people leading the party to raise some money for our candidates. It’s not much more complicated than that.”
“They just said… can we use your name and and you try to bring some folks together,” he added. “And you don’t want to say no, of course. And quite frankly, I had already agreed to do a number of events for candidates. And clearly the emphasis here is just to raise some money for candidates.”
Ehrlich made the leap from state legislator to congressman to governor by casting himself as a moderate who worked well with Democrats and drew support from voters of both parties. Now he is perhaps the most high-profile backer of a statewide ticket led by vocal supporters of former President Trump, who has made baseless claims about the 2020 election and stoked a violent reaction from supporters on the day the vote-count was certified.
Pressed repeatedly about some the views Cox and Peroutka hold, Ehrlich demurred. Nor would he criticize Hogan for his outspokenness. Hogan served in Ehrlich’s cabinet and the two remain friends.
“I’m not getting into the issues,” Ehrlich said. “If you’re the unity guy, you’re not going to get into individual candidates and individual positions on issues. In fact, it’s sort of a weird position. … I am not the candidate.”
In some ways, Ehrlich’s unwillingness to defend everything Cox and Peroutka have ever said — or might say — is understandable given his middle-of-the-road views and temperament.
(A year ago, when a reporter asked him to comment on Cox’s entry into the governor’s race, Ehrlich replied, “Who is Dan Cox?” Told that Cox is a first-term state delegate from Frederick County, Ehrlich texted, “Don’t know him.”)
Since leaving office, Ehrlich has focused on his law practice, he’s written a couple political books, and he and his wife Kendel host a podcast. This fall, he said, he is more likely to be out of town, watching his sons play college football, than on the campaign trail.
“In my races, it’s my opinions that count,” he said. “We have lots of different candidates, with different views [this cycle]. But my views on personalities, on individual candidates, or individual issues are really not relevant this cycle. That’s not my job.”