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Hogan stakes claim to big-tent Republicanism with critiques of Trump

Hogan stakes claim to big-tent Republicanism with critiques of Trump
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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) says President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump MORE was not sufficiently critical of China’s response to the coronavirus now spreading wildly across the globe, and that the federal government’s strategy for combatting the disease in the United States continues to be a problem.

Hogan, one of the Republican governors who moved most aggressively to stomp out the virus as it began spreading in his state in March, said in an in-depth interview Friday that Trump did not take the virus seriously enough in its early days.

“I just think the president’s messaging was wrong, particularly at the beginning of the crisis where he was praising China but he was also downplaying the virus where he said it was going to disappear. At the same time, many of his top experts on this in his administration who were advising him were saying, really just the opposite,” Hogan told The Hill. 

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“There are a number of things that only the federal government can do and that they can do a better job on,” Hogan said. “A perfect example is on a national testing strategy, which was I think the big failure at the beginning of the pandemic and now is continuing to be a problem. The president was just talking about cutting funding for testing at a time when I think the federal government ought to be stepping up and stepping in to use the powers of the federal government to ramp up testing.”

Hogan has been critical of Trump throughout the president’s tenure in office, and especially during the pandemic. As chairman of the National Governors Association, Hogan has found himself butting heads with a president who has delegated responsibility for handling the virus to the states.

“It wasn’t my intent to simply oppose him, but as the chairman of the national governors, I really did have to stand up and push back a few times when on behalf of all my fellow governors on both sides of the aisle we felt like states weren’t getting the help that we needed,” Hogan said.

“The president made the decision early on that the states were going to be put in a position of making their own decision," he added. "I don’t see that changing, but I am pleased that the president’s messaging has changed dramatically in the past week, almost a complete 180 where he’s talking about people should wear masks and tweeting out a picture of himself wearing a mask and saying it’s the patriotic thing to do. I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

In a new book set for release next week, Hogan details some of the earliest days of the pandemic, when senior administration officials briefed governors at a Feb. 9 meeting on the sidelines of the National Governors Association’s annual conference in Washington. At that briefing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield and Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, told governors to be prepared for what would become an unprecedented crisis.

“This could be catastrophic,” Hogan remembers one official saying. “The death toll could be significant.” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told governors to meet with their lawyers to figure out what powers they would have in a health emergency.

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Hours earlier, Trump had dismissed the coronavirus that had already begun to spread undetected within the United States, suggesting it would disappear with the summer heat.

On the sidelines of the same conference, at a fundraising dinner with the nation’s governors, Hogan said Trump talked at length about his respect for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and how well he got along with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-unKim Jong UnUS analyst: North Korea's Kim, family inoculated with experimental Chinese COVID-19 vaccine North Korea puts further restrictions on seawater entry to fight pandemic: state media South Korea: Kim Jong Un has executed citizens, shut down capital to stop COVID-19 spread MORE. In an aside, Trump said he did not like South Korean President Moon Jae-in; the South Koreans were “terrible people,” Trump said.

Yumi Hogan, the governor’s wife and the first South Korean immigrant to serve as the first lady of an American state, was “hurt and upset,” her husband wrote.

A Republican source who was at the dinner confirmed to The Hill that Trump made the comments, though the source said it was in the context of trade negotiations.

Hogan praised Vice President Pence, an ally from Pence’s days as a fellow governor, for keeping lines of communications open between the White House and the nation’s governors.

“I think the vice president has done a good job. I’ve praised him and the work of the task force. We have a good open relationship, and every week I’m on calls with him and the governors and people on the coronavirus task force and cabinet members. He’s really I think stepped up during this crisis and led the team. He’s been very forthcoming, and done a great job of communicating with all of the governors, and I think he’s taken it very seriously from the beginning,” Hogan said. “I think one of the best moves the president made was putting Vice President Pence in charge of the coronavirus task force.”

Hogan’s book, “Still Standing: Surviving cancer, riots, a global pandemic and the toxic politics that divide America,” reads like an opening argument to Republican voters who may be looking for a new direction after four years under President Trump. Hogan touts his electoral success in Maryland, a deep blue state where registered Democrats significantly outnumber registered Republicans.

Whether or not Trump wins reelection this year, Hogan says his brand of politics can lay out a new marker for the direction of the GOP.

“I was just reelected in 2018 while Trump was president, while it was a huge blue year and a big blue wave as we were losing governors across the country, while Republicans were losing the House and losing state legislative bodies everywhere,” he said. “We were able to reach out and make a more inclusive argument where I won suburban women and swing voters and independents and a lot of discerning Democrats, including minorities.” 

“So it’s possible. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We have to go about things differently than we have. I’m not sure that’s what the Republican Party’s going to be willing to do, but I think it’s important to have those discussions and that’s certainly why I want to be a part of the discussion in the future about where we go. It’s what I think the Republican Party has to think about doing,” he added.

Hogan has said publicly he did not vote for President Trump in 2016 — he wrote in his father, Lawrence Hogan, the former congressman who was the only Republican to vote for all three articles of impeachment against former President Nixon, who passed away in 2017. Hogan would not say for whom he will vote this year, though he did not rule out either former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Senate approves two energy regulators, completing panel Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race MORE or another write-in.

“I think we’re going to wait and see in November what happens there, but right now I’m just going to stay focused on the pandemic and try to solve some of these big problems,” he said. “I’ve got to continue to work with the president and with governors on both sides for the next few months, and that’s what I’m going to stay focused on.”

November might be troubling for Hogan’s party, he admitted, acknowledging polls that show Trump trailing Biden by a wide margin.

“There are troubling signs that if the election were held today, the Republican Party would be in pretty bad shape. I know a lot of things can change in 100 days, and I think that’s probably why the president’s completely changing his message and a lot of Republican states are going in a different direction,” Hogan said. “Regardless of what happens in November, the Republican Party’s going to take a close look at itself and make a decision about which way we’re going to be heading in the future.”

Hogan said he is too busy to consider a presidential campaign himself in 2024, when either Trump will be term-limited or Biden will face reelection. The number of new coronavirus cases has begun to rise in Maryland, especially among younger people and workers in crab and poultry processing plants, he said.

“Look, I’m really enjoying my role chairing the nation’s governors. That’s keeping me pretty busy dealing with the White House, dealing with all my colleagues. I’m in the middle of dealing with the pandemic, dealing with the economic crisis in my state, and I’ve got to stay focused on that job. I’ve got that job until January of 2023 and then we’ll have plenty of time to think about what happens after that,” Hogan said. “By no means are we out of the woods, and I’m very concerned that we are going to see a flareup, as we have across the country. I think the next few months are potentially going to be some of the most challenging times we’ve had so far.”

“I don’t think the worst is behind us,” he said.