Josh Kurtz: Convention-al Wisdom

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Much is being made of Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision not to support the Republicans’ toxic presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump. And make no mistake: it is a big deal any time a high-ranking elected official like Hogan refuses to back his party’s presidential nominee.

But the development didn’t necessarily warrant the breathless coverage it initially received. It’s not as if Hogan’s decision is going to affect Trump’s dim prospects in Maryland. And the impact on Hogan’s reelection in 2018 – despite the grumbling in some conservative quarters – is probably minimal.

The way Hogan disclosed his plans, though, says a lot about the man.

Hogan revealed his decision to eschew Trump in a peevish response to a reporter’s question. The guy has only been in office for 18 months, but I don’t think I’ve used the word “peevish” so often in connection with any other Maryland governor. It has become his standard operating procedure when dealing with reporters and legislators – all of whom he regards as petty nuisances.

Hogan got his message across, but he missed an opportunity to frame it thoughtfully. He could have written an op-ed in The Washington Post, say, outlining his reasons for rejecting Trump and staying away from the Republican convention in Cleveland. He could have expressed his hope for a higher level of political discourse in the future, with buzzwords about civility and good government thrown in that would appeal to independents and moderates in both political parties.

Instead, what we got was a snappish response to a persistent question he knew he’d have to answer eventually.

It’s not like Hogan hasn’t played in this presidential election. He was, after all, a supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s during the GOP primary, and even traveled to New Hampshire to stump on Christie’s behalf.

Of course, he felt he owed Christie – who was head of the Republican Governors Association in 2014 – while he owes Trump nothing. But what does he do if Trump selects his friend Christie to be his running mate? If that occurs, he ought to be ready for more questions.

Hogan’s decision to back away from Trump and the official convention proceedings was hardly a surprise to state Republican leaders, who had an inkling that this would happen for a while. But they hoped he would at least show up for a couple of their events in Cleveland and help with their fundraising.

Now, that’s not going to happen. Don’t expect to see a single prominent member of Hogan’s administration anywhere near the convention, either.

It’s a stark contrast to the last time there was a Republican National Convention with a GOP governor in the Maryland State House. At the 2004 confab in New York, Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) seemed to show up at every event, and he threw a party at a pier along the Hudson River. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) had a prime-time speaking gig, and was feted later that night at a dance club near the historic Flatiron Building.

The Republicans knew President George W. Bush wasn’t going to carry Maryland that fall, but they had reason to be optimistic, with their first governor in two generations and a rising national star in Steele. The Iraq War hadn’t yet gone south on Bush and the GOP – in fact, the convention was held in New York specifically to remind voters of 9-11 and Bush’s supposed strength in the face of terrorism. Most party activists were confident that Bush was going to be reelected, and that the GOP was going to retake the U.S. Senate and expand its majority in the House of Representatives – which is how everything shook out.

The party is a little more divided and jittery this time around, to say the least.

But you will see Maryland Republican elected officials in Cleveland, including Andy Harris, the state’s lone GOP congressman, who initially endorsed Ben Carson for president before settling on Trump; Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, who is already building political capital beyond the borders of his own jurisdiction; and state Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings. Early Trump supporters like Western Maryland Dels. Wendell Beitzel and Barrie Ciliberti will also be there. So will Kendel Ehrlich, the former first lady.

Trump scrambles the political calculus in multiple ways – not just nationally, but at home, too. Certain races that might otherwise have been competitive may not be with Trump at the head of the ticket. On the other hand, certain districts with a heavy concentration of blue-collar voters who find Trump’s message appealing could be more competitive than anticipated.

Trump may have depressed GOP fundraising for the Cleveland convention in much the same way that Hogan’s decision to skip it may hurt the state party’s fundraising at the convention. But some corporate entities and interest groups that might be expected to fund the Democratic and Republican conventions are now sitting both out; Hogan’s absence from Cleveland could in the same way hurt Maryland Democrats’ fundraising for their national convention in Philadelphia.

Hogan is hardly the first Maryland governor to put his own interests ahead of his party’s. He has a fundraiser a week, on average, scheduled throughout the summer, according to fundraising calendars that Annapolis lobbyists have circulated to their clients.

And Hogan at least is helping Del. Kathy Szeliga, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, who is understandably trying to draft off the governor’s popularity. She’s casting her race in the same terms that Hogan used in 2014 and is vowing to “change Washington” just as he pledged to “change Maryland.”

But Szeliga, for all her attributes, is not going to beat Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D) in a presidential election year – giving Democrats an opportunity in November to boast about Hogan’s meager coattails. With the party’s prospects to oust Hogan in 2018 very much in doubt, they’ll consider that a small but essential victory.

For Hogan, whether or not he showed up in Cleveland, the long-term picture remains the same, and pretty straightforward: If Hillary Clinton is elected president, his reelection prospects are a whole lot easier. If it’s Trump, they’re a whole lot harder.

 

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.