President Trump might not be in imminent danger of impeachment
after the implosion of the BuzzFeed
report but there are still plenty
of reasons that he might not be the best candidate to carry the Republican
banner in 2020. Although Trump is currently an almost prohibitive favorite to
win the Republican nomination two years from now, the news cycle in the Age of
Trump moves quickly and by primary time
it may be apparent to many Republicans that another choice is preferable. The
problem is that unless other candidates start preparing now, there will be no
one ready to take up the mantle if the Trump presidency implodes.
This week we saw the first signs that a Republican
challenger might be willing to risk President Trump’s ire with a 2020 campaign.
The prospective candidate is Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland.
Hogan is rated as America’s second-most popular governor with a 67 percent approval rating. Only Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, another blue state Republican, is rated higher. Hogan has been firing warning shots at President Trump. Politico reports that Hogan has been meeting with prominent Never Trump Republicans, implicitly attacking Trump in speeches, and is planning a trip to Iowa in March.
As an example, when Hogan delivered his second inaugural
address last Wednesday, he didn’t mention Trump by name but did attack the “debilitating
politics” of Washington. He also noted that his father, Rep. Lawrence Hogan,
was the first Republican congressman to support the removal of Richard Nixon,
saying, “Despite tremendous political pressure, he put aside partisanship and
answered the demands of his conscience to do what he thought was the right
thing for the nation that he loved.”
Magazine describes Hogan as a fiscal
conservative who ascended to power by attacks on Gov Martin O’Malley, who non-Marylanders
might remember as one of the Democratic candidates in 2016 who was not Hillary
Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Hogan dubbed his predecessor “Owe Malley” for his
tax and fee increases and singled out his storm
water management fee for ridicule as the “Rain Tax.”
Hogan took office in 2015 and his tax and regulatory reforms
have boosted the Maryland economy. That accounts for part of his popularity. Another
factor in his popularity is his strategy of avoiding social issues that
polarize voters. Although a pro-life
Catholic, Hogan says he considers abortion and same-sex marriage to be settled
Many Republicans will also have a problem with Hogan’s
stance on guns. O’Malley passed new gun control laws after the Sandy Hook
massacre and Hogan kept his campaign promise not to touch those laws.
Additionally, he has supported a “red flag” law that would allow judges to
force gun owners to temporarily surrender their weapons if there is proof that
they are a danger to themselves or others. While these positions would not be
popular with Republicans on the national level, they have worked well in
heavily Democratic Maryland.
Another factor in Hogan’s popularity is his triumph over
cancer. Several months into his first term, not long after ordering the
National Guard into Baltimore during the riots following the death of Freddie
Gray at the hands of police, Hogan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of
non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He stayed on the job even as he underwent treatment,
and his courage and good humor as he faced the disease helped to make him a
household name in Maryland. His bald head is a remnant of his chemotherapy.
So far, Hogan has not made any explicit move toward formalizing
a 2020 candidacy, but the Trump campaign is taking notice. It would be
difficult to escape the national party’s attention since Hogan’s center of
power in Baltimore is less than 50 miles from Washington, D.C. As a result,
Hogan is playing it cagey with his aides denying that he has any interest in
running for president.
It remains to be seen whether Hogan or any other Republicans
will step up to challenge Donald Trump for the 2020 nomination. Right now the
Republican hopefuls are walking a tightrope between the president’s overwhelming
popularity within the GOP and the looming possibility that Trump will be too
unpopular to win the general election.