Hogan, who is 62, resembles a driver’s ed instructor: built like a fireplug, thick glasses, barking cadence. He became the instant Never Trump front-runner in November after he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in the solidly blue state, in part on account of his vocal criticism of Trump. He then made an obliging visit to the Niskanen Center in December. He is term-limited, has little use for Trump and has ruled out nothing for 2020. The Washington Post columnist and Never Trump eminence George F. Will, noting the intense chemotherapy Hogan underwent while in office, surmised “he has endured something almost as unpleasant as Donald Trump.”
When I met him, Hogan had just finished his weekly news conference, in which he became animated about the battered state of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. “It’s outrageous and unacceptable,” he told reporters. “I mean, you have potholes practically swallowing cars.” There was something refreshing, in 2019, about watching a chief executive hold forth on something as workaday as pavement after a weekend in which the actual chief executive of the federal government had railed on Twitter against everything from his portrayal on “Saturday Night Live” (a rerun) to John McCain’s “last in his class” rank at the Naval Academy (60-plus years ago) to the travesty of Jeanine Pirro’s suspension by Fox News.
Hogan seemed to be enjoying the role of hypothetical Republican alternative. To a question about the trip he made to Iowa at the beginning of March, he pointed out that he was the vice chairman of the National Governors Association, and Iowa happened to be where one of its regional workshops was held, so nothing to see there. “I thought it would just be great to spend 48 hours in subzero temperatures in Des Moines,” he deadpanned. “But that doesn’t mean I’m actually running for anything.” He took another question about whether he might run or not.
Hogan likes to remind people that he was the first Republican governor in 2016 to say he could not vote for Donald Trump, whom he opposed on general character and temperament grounds — just the opposite of the kind of panting allegiance to the president that you often hear from elected Republicans. Instead, Hogan wrote in his late father, Lawrence Hogan, a three-term Maryland representative in the 1970s. The elder Hogan, who died in 2017, was the only Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Hogan’s father counseled him to do something else for a while before getting into politics, and he spent much of his adult life as a real estate developer. He had run unsuccessfully for Congress but never held any elected office until, at 57, he won an upset victory in 2014.
“I’m boring,” Hogan said in his office, excitedly. He pointed to something that the Johns Hopkins political scientist Yascha Mounk told The Times last year: “For the last two years it’s been impossible to go to a bar on a Monday night and not have to talk about politics. Most Americans are sick of that. I think you can win in 2020 by promising that if you become president, people can go back to talking about football.” Americans, Hogan told me, wanted a president who would “just fix stuff.”
“Just Fix Stuff” is about as close as Hogan comes to putting forth a governing philosophy. He talks about his ability to “reach across the aisle” and be “less divisive” and restore a more inclusive tradition in the party. (That may be a relative proposition: Amid a heated legislative fight with the Maryland General Assembly last month, Hogan accused Democrats of being “pro-criminal.”) “I think the party has been sort of hijacked by this guy that really is not a traditional Republican,” he said of Trump.
As we spoke, it was hard to ascertain what Hogan’s animating reason for doing something like this would be, whether he has any particular passion for ideas or theory of the future — or whether he is entertaining the notion simply because he has a high approval rating (69 percent, per a Goucher Poll in February). He told me he’s not willing to launch a “suicide mission” against Trump if he has no chance. And he is not really thinking about a campaign, except when people ask him about it (which they do all the time, he mentions — all the time). Anyway, a lot can change. Filing deadlines are a ways off, he pointed out.
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