Larry Hogan interview: Republicans must stop ‘divisive insults’

Irish-American anti-Trump Republican has written a memoir. But will he run in 2024?

 

Larry Hogan knows a lot about political and personal challenges. In 2015, less than five months into his first term as governor of Maryland, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began intensive ‘chemotherapy to eradicate the dozens of tumours doctors found throughout his body.

“Was this really how it was all going to end?” he asks in his new book, Still Standing. The answer was a decisive no. After a year of intensive and gruelling treatment, during which he continued to run the state of Maryland from his hospital bed, he was declared cancer-free.

While Hogan’s personal story of triumph over adversity helped cement his standing with millions of Marylanders, his national profile has soared in recent months.

Hogan is one of an increasingly rare breed in US politics – an anti-Trump Republican. The 64-year-old Irish-American governor was one of the few senior Republican figures to publicly admonish Donald Trump as the businessman-turned-reality television star stealthily built his lead during the Republican primary cycle of 2016. On election day 2016, he did not vote for Trump.

In recent months he has become one of the most recognisable faces of the coronavirus crisis. As chair of the National Governors’ Association, he is one of several governors across the country who have taken the lead on the Covid-19 response, as the White House has fumbled.

In April, he chartered a plane from South Korea carrying 500,000 tests for the citizens of Maryland, building on personal connections through his wife, who is Korean-born. (Hogan’s own background is rooted in Cork – his great grandparents emigrated to the United States from Cobh.)

Hogan’s high media profile – underpinned by the release of his new memoir – prompted speculation that he could challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in this election cycle. But ultimately he chose not to run. He is now being discussed as a possible candidate for 2024.

Political aspirations

Speaking from the Maryland state capital, Annapolis, he is prepared for the inevitable question about his political aspirations. “I’ve got an important job until January 2023,” he says, in reference to the end of his second and final term as governor.

“I don’t think there is time to look ahead to what happens after that but there will be plenty of time to think about it. I’m not really making long-term plans about what happens in 2024.”

In the meantime, his immediate concern is the potential impact of Trump on November’s elections.

“As a Republican I am concerned. I think at the moment the Republican Party has got some real issues and could face a very difficult time in November. I think that translates down ballot – everybody’s focused on the presidential race, but that drag is going to hurt Senate, congressional races and some governor races.”

The problem, he says, is Trump and his divisive brand of politics. He cites the midterm elections of 2018 when Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives, some gubernatorial races and state legislative bodies across the country. “I think this November could be even worse,” he says.

Hogan’s faith in a post-Trump future for the Republican Party is rooted in his own deep commitment to Republican politics.

Despite his self-characterisation as something of a political outsider and self-made man – he ran a property business before running for political office – he comes from solid Republican stock.

His father and namesake, Larry Hogan snr, was a senator who famously broke with his party in withdrawing his support for Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. A member of the House judiciary committee, his declaration that “not even the president” is above the law was streamed on television screens across the land.

Party loyalty

While history may have judged him well, he paid a price politically. Hogan recalls his father receiving thousands of letters and offensive packages from Republicans furious at his perceived lack of party loyalty. He went on to lose the Republican primary in the governor’s race in 1974.

Comparisons between father and son have surfaced as Larry Hogan jnr has taken a stance against Trump, particularly during the president’s impeachment.

But his belief in a less divisive Republicanism that is based on compromise with Democrats is also born of his own political experience.

Hogan is one of a handful of Republican governors in a Democratic-majority state. Maryland, the east coast state which spans the suburbs of greater Washington DC, the gritty urban centre of Baltimore and the genteel state capital of Annapolis, is traditional Democratic territory.

His victory in 2014 – which saw him succeed another Irish-American, Martin O’Malley, a former Democratic candidate for president – was one of the political surprises of that election cycle. The political analysis website FiveThirtyEight gave his opponent Anthony Brown a 94 per cent chance of winning. But Hogan won decisively and secured re-election in 2018.

Within the first few months of his election, he was plunged into a major crisis when the city of Baltimore erupted over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered fatal injuries while being transported in the back of a police van. No one was ever charged with his death, and the city was the scene of violent clashes between police and the community.

Hogan recounts in his book his clash with the Democratic mayor of the time, who he says was too late to call for state help. He is also critical of then president Barack Obama, who he claims warned him against sending in the National Guard.

What is his view of the unrest happening today in the United States?

‘Destructive mobs’

“I think now many of our mayors and our governors are making the mistake of allowing destructive mobs to take over their cities without taking any action,” he says, a reminder that while political centrists like Hogan may seem moderate compared to Trump, he is still very much a Republican politician, with set views on law and order.

When I ask him about the continuing high rates of crime in cities such as Baltimore, he blames federal agencies and prosecutors for not pursuing prosecutions.

As for Donald Trump’s controversial decision to send in federal troops over the wishes of local officials in cities such as Portland and Seattle, he says: “he shouldn’t have to”, citing the failures further down the line. “You have to find a balance,” he adds, citing the need to avoid inflaming a situation or act aggressively against protesters.

As regards November’s election, he refuses to be drawn on whether he will vote for Trump. He knows Joe Biden from the former vice-president’s time in the White House. But he is loyal enough to his party so that he is unwilling to cut the Democratic frontrunner much slack.

“I think he’s a nice enough man,” he says of Biden. “I’m not sure that either party really has the absolute best candidate they can nominate. A lot of people in America are wondering if this the best we can do, are these the best choices to lead the country?”

While Hogan doesn’t explicitly suggest that he could be the person to lead the country, he is crystal clear about his own political philosophy. He cites Ronald Reagan as a political hero, noting that his first experience in Republican politics was as the chairman of the Youth for Reagan group.

“We need to get back to those times. Reagan had a more hopeful, more positive vision. It was all about civility, reaching across the aisle, working with Democrats and coming up with common sense solutions.” Reagan also successfully broadened the appeal of the Republican Party, Hogan says, attracting the so-called “Reagan Democrats” and independents.

“Now we’re doing a lot more dividing. We’re shrinking the base of the party,” he reflects, adding that Trump would be much more successful “if he threw his phone away and stopped tweeting”.

“The Republican Party needs to be standing up for its allies, and focusing on the core issues like the economy,” he says. “If we try and get away from the demeaning, divisive insults, I think we’ll be a lot more successful.”

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