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.”
Baltimore 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 issues.
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.
Originally published on The Resurgent