During last year’s election, when he became Maryland’s first Republican to win a second term as governor in more than 60 years, Larry Hogan mostly steered clear of talk of Donald Trump. So it came as a surprise when, during his inaugural speech Wednesday, Hogan dedicated considerable time to presidential iconoclasm—all without mentioning the president by name.
“Party loyalty and personal affection and precedents for the past must fall before the arbiter of men’s actions, the law itself,” Hogan said. He was quoting his father, congressman Lawrence Hogan—the first Republican to call for President Nixon’s impeachment during the Watergate scandal. “No man, not even the President of the United States, is above the law. For our system of justice and our system of government to survive, we must pledge our highest allegiance to the strength of the law and not to the common frailties of man.”
Former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who introduced Hogan Wednesday, struck a similar note: “Larry is at the top of a list of leaders that I admire today because what’s happening here in Annapolis is the antithesis of what’s happening in Washington, D.C., these days. Washington’s not just our nation’s capital; it’s also the capital of gridlock and dysfunction… Outside D.C., good and interesting ideas and strong leadership still hold the power to repair and reinvigorate our institutions. Governor Hogan’s first term is a testament to that.”
The rhetoric, guarded as it was, caused an immediate stir—including speculation that Hogan could be eyeing a presidential run. Although Hogan doesn’t have much of a national profile, it’s less of a stretch than you might think. Most conservative politicians, even those that are secretly skeptical of the president, know better than to torch their reputations among their primary voters by trying to take Trump on. But Hogan’s constituency isn’t made up primarily of Trump fans—as a Republican with sky-high approval ratings in deep-blue Maryland, he won bipartisan accolades by developing a reputation for steady, affable leadership and looking for ways to strike deals with Democrats in the legislature. (In November, he easily defeated progressive challenger Ben Jealous, capturing 55 percent of the vote.) In other words, Hogan doesn’t stand to lose much politically by taking on the president.
Whether Hogan would stand a chance of actually defeating Trump is, of course, another matter altogether. Setting aside Trump’s continued popularity within the GOP base, many conservatives could likely find things to dislike in Hogan’s moderate governing record—like his assurances while running for office in 2014 that “nothing will change on abortion with me as governor.” But Hogan’s easy-going, self-assured style could make him more difficult to push around than the sad sacks Trump ran circles around in 2016—Bush with his glum schoolmarm routine, or the overtaught, overanxious Rubio.
Hogan himself ended his speech on a tantalizing note: If we can make this work in Maryland, why can’t it work everywhere else?
“To those who say our political system is too broken and can’t be fixed, I would argue that we have already shown a better path forward,” Hogan said. “And if we can accomplish that here in Maryland, then there is no place in America where these very same principles cannot succeed.”