Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is pushing the door open for a possible primary challenge to President Trump — but even Republicans who are lukewarm about the president are divided on the merits of the idea.
In an interview published in The Washington Post on Monday, Hogan sought to counter perceptions that he is just too centrist for the modern-day GOP.
He proclaimed himself a member of “the Ronald Reagan school of politics” and said of the president, “Sometimes he’s his own worst enemy, and there is a better way to accomplish things.”
Hogan, who visited Iowa earlier this month and will go to New Hampshire in April, acknowledged that the chances of vanquishing Trump from within the GOP at this moment look close to nonexistent. But he suggested that situation might not last forever — or even until the end of the year.
“Of course you couldn’t win a Republican primary challenge today,” he told the Post’s Robert Costa and Erin Cox. “But I also have been around long enough to know that things can change very rapidly. ... A lot can happen all spring and summer and into the fall.”
Hogan is a little more than two months into his second term as governor of a liberal-leaning state. He is much more of a traditional Republican than Trump and, as a cancer survivor, has a compelling personal story to tell.
Some GOP critics of Trump believe the president’s divisiveness and incendiary style leave room for a rival to run.
“The conventional wisdom is that Trump has the game rigged [within the GOP] and now has a seriously well-funded campaign, something he didn’t have when he won the last primary,” said Rick Tyler, who served as communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign. “But now we’ve had two years of the Trump administration, and I think he is ripe for drawing himself a primary challenger.”
Others are much less confident, however.
They note that Trump retains very high approval ratings with Republican voters, even as his opinion poll numbers with the electorate at large remain mediocre. Trump typically gets the thumbs-up from around 90 percent of Republicans in polls.
Sources within Trump’s circle also note that meaningful primary challenges tend to come from the flank of a president’s party rather than from the center.
The two most serious challenges to a sitting president in recent decades came from Pat Buchanan, who hit then-President George H.W. Bush from the right in 1992, and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who ran against then-President Jimmy Carter from the left in 1980.
There is virtually no chance of anyone being able to get to the right of Trump for a 2020 primary challenge. Figures such as Hogan, for all his talk of Reagan, would be coming at the president from a more centrist position — and even conventional Republicans fear the chances of success are negligible for such a strategy.
Hogan “has been a very successful Republican governing in a blue state, but I don’t think that he would have any chance in a Republican presidential primary,” said Ryan Williams, an aide to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) during his 2012 campaign for the White House.
“Despite all of President Trump’s issues, poll after poll shows that he enjoys solid support among members of his own party, and there is not a desire for a primary challenger, whether it is Larry Hogan or anyone else,” he added.
One school of thought holds that it would be worth challenging Trump even if the contender did not prevail, because such a bid would at least put forth an alternative vision of conservatism.
Prominent anti-Trump conservative commentators including Bill Kristol — formerly of The Weekly Standard, now with the website The Bulwark — are understood to be searching for a candidate to throw their weight behind, with Hogan one of the possibilities available.
Other figures who could run include former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.
Judd Gregg, who served three terms as a Republican senator representing New Hampshire, said that “obviously Trump is going to get the nomination unless something happens, which I don’t expect from the Mueller investigation.”
But Gregg, who is also a columnist for The Hill, added, “I do think there is a growing need within the party to have a discussion” on matters ranging from what he termed the “tenor” of the Trump presidency to the importance of fiscally conservative policies.
Hogan has, for now, suggested he has little interest in a kamikaze run that is merely intended to raise issues, however.
Earlier this month, he told Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press, “I’m not someone who would just run just to make a statement. I’d have to believe there was an actual path of victory.”
Republican strategists note there are other factors to consider, too.
One is that elected officials with aspirations to higher office might prefer to bide their time until 2024 rather than challenging Trump now. Such a challenge would divide the party and likely earn them intense enmity from the Trump-supporting base.
Any challenger would also have to be prepared to endure plenty of slings and arrows — many of them from the president himself.
“Anyone who wants to proceed in that direction is going to need a very thick skin,” said Gregg.