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What’s the real reason Larry Hogan is so popular in Maryland?

The governor is being touted as a Trump primary opponent. But are his advocates jumping to conclusions?

January 30, 2019

9:33 AM

30 January 2019

9:33 AM

For the last two weeks, the Acela corridor has been buzzing with speculation that Maryland’s popular Republican governor Larry Hogan might challenge Trump in a presidential primary.

Let’s see who’s been singing his praises: Bret Stephens, Stephen Hayes, Jennifer Rubin, all NeverTrumpers, and it has been reported that Bill Kristol is trying to draft him. Also Jerry Taylor, who now leads the Niskanen Center. Chris Christie complimented him this week. Jeb Bush appeared at Hogan’s inauguration this month.

All of this signals to Hogan that should he run, dozens of moderate Republican hawks from Chevy Chase to Scarsdale will be behind him.

At his inauguration Hogan delivered a speech crafted by John McCain’s ghostwriter Mark Salter. Salter helped McCain develop his persona as a maverick truth-teller. Salter might be responsible for the late senator chalking up his decision to turn over the Steele dossier to James Comey as ‘what duty demanded I do’. Salter has described his ghostwriting process as ‘going inside his head.’

Hogan is popular in Maryland for a reason. In a different age, before the post 9/11 security spending bonanza transformed the state, he could have been be a kind of responsible Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican taking on a Democratic party grown complacent and corrupt from one-party rule. But today Maryland is Federal Annex North, making it an unusual place in ways which make its interests more similar to the Never Trumpers, whose biggest gripe with Trump is that he hasn’t bombed Iran yet.

In 2015 Maryland was the fourth-largest recipient of defense spending and the sixth in proportion to its GDP, receiving $20.5 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2016 according to the Baltimore Business Journal, it was nearly $30 billion.

So when Hogan says the recent shutdown is no way to govern a country, it’s because a huge portion of the federal workforce lives in Maryland. And it’s not just federal employees either, the ecosystem of federal contracts underwrites the economic productivity of the entire state. Lockheed Martin is based in Bethesda; AAI, the drone-builder, and Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Lab, are also Maryland companies with hundreds of millions in government contracts.

This Hogan is a politician uniquely unsuited to our populist moment. Nobody trusts elites anymore, or defense contracts, yet his state depends to a large extent on their largesse. He sounds less like the guy who can clean up the state’s pension fund and more like the guy hectoring the outlying districts to get their tributes to the capital right away before the next Hunger Games.

If he were able to be this popular while being a genuine conservative, then he would indeed be a formidable politician. But he lacks the spine that any successful challenger to Trump would need: he refused to say he would have voted for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. If he flakes on these basic matters of party discipline, how do the Never Trumpers expect him to win a Republican primary? And why would he deserve to?

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