Will Republicans Make All Their Candidates Defend Trump?

Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Interview

Blue-state Republican Larry Hogan.
Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction last week unsurprisingly created an all-hands-on-deck moment for Republicans. Clearly, a lot of Americans hadn’t been paying much attention to the hush-money trial or Trump’s other legal problems, so his party urgently wanted to spin the rather shocking (and entirely unprecedented) news from Manhattan as a partisan miscarriage of justice and a vindication of Trump’s self-victimizing paranoia. What has been shocking is the lengths Team Trump has gone in enforcing party discipline.

Just consider how Larry Hogan has been treated. Hogan is the Republican former governor of the very blue state of Maryland. He is now running for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Ben Cardin. Republicans have no business even thinking about winning a Maryland Senate race in a presidential year. Biden carried Maryland by better than a two-to-one margin in 2020; it was his third-best state, after Vermont and Massachusetts, and it’s as Democratic as Oklahoma is Republican. Yet Hogan, an inveterate critic of Donald Trump, is sufficiently popular that he has a puncher’s chance of flipping this seat against Democrat Angela Alsobrooks in November. If he does so, it will virtually guarantee a Republican Senate, and if it’s merely close, he could force Democrats to spend money they can ill afford to expend defending a seat that should be safe. And to be very clear, for all the talk of Trump’s frightening second-term agenda of hyper-reactionary policies and vengeance against his many enemies (including the “deep state” federal employees who represent a big chunk of Maryland’s electorate), his ability to implement his plans depends very much on his party controlling Congress.

In other words, Larry Hogan is a precious GOP commodity, and party leaders should give him a wide berth to disassociate himself from the top of the ticket. His statement just prior to Trump’s conviction was about as mild as you could possibly expect from someone running statewide in a jurisdiction where a majority of voters probably think the former president should be chained to an anchor and dropped into the Potomac River:

Yet at a time when you’d figure the Trump campaign had other fish to fry, co–campaign manager Chris LaCivita to tweeted back at Hogan: “You just ended your campaign.” On national TV this weekend, RNC co-chair Lara Trump made it clear Hogan would not get a pass from his party, as Politico Playbook reported:

“I think anybody who’s not speaking up in the face of really something that should never again have seen the light of day, a trial that would never have been brought against any other person aside from Donald Trump, doesn’t deserve the respect of anyone,” Lara Trump added. “[Hogan] doesn’t deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party at this point, and, quite frankly, anybody in America.”

One could argue that these anathemas are intended to help Hogan among anti-Trump voters, but if so, they are remarkably ham-handed. Hogan needs MAGA voters, too, and giving him the Judas treatment could alienate them decisively. What the reaction suggests is that Republicans are so fixated on absolute Trump solidarity that they are imposing a loyalty litmus test on candidates up and down the ballot. This approach could help ensure a strong, harmonious hymn of praise for the GOP presidential candidate but not necessarily the strongest overall party performance in November.

No matter how strong Trump looks as the opponent of an unpopular Democratic incumbent, he is deeply and consistently unpopular himself, and the trial and verdict in Manhattan underlined some of his most unsavory characteristics. His party needs a coalition broader than the MAGA base to control Congress and give him the power he craves. Republicans should be giving politicians like Larry Hogan a hand, rather than the back of their hands.

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