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Larry Hogan's hopes

Larry Hogan's hopes
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Appearing on “Meet the Press” over the weekend, Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan sent his strongest signal yet that he intends to run for president in 2024. Hogan, a popular chief executive in a blue state, has written the obligatory campaign biography and is touting his ability to win support from Democrats and independents. Hogan easily withstood the 2018 Blue Wave that saw Democrats win back control of the House of Representatives with the largest midterm election margin of all time. Since then, Hogan has won kudos for his deft handling of the novel coronavirus while keeping his distance from the Trump administration — even announcing that he is not committed to supporting President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE’s reelection. (Hogan voted for his late father in 2016).

Gov. Hogan isn’t the only Republican with high job approval ratings. Gov. Charlie Baker remains very popular in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, even out-performing Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks MORE (D-Mass.) in his 2018 reelection bid. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine won plaudits for his handling of the pandemic. Each remains popular with Democrats and independents in their respective states.

Hogan’s hopes rest on a decisive Trump defeat. Recent polling suggests that is a likely outcome. The famed Obama coalition of young voters, minorities and single women is being reconstituted and is energized to vote against Trump. National polling has presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE ahead by an average of 9 points. Most importantly, Biden holds significant advantages in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all Trump territory in 2016. Biden also leads in Florida and North Carolina, two must-have GOP states. Even red states such as Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio show a tight race. Trump’s inept handling of the pandemic has transformed the presidential contest into a potential Democratic rout. Even Hogan diplomatically admits that “mistakes were made” in the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.

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Something important is afoot. Candidates matter and Biden is a resilient one. Today, Biden leads among several important groups Trump won in 2016: Seniors (aged 65 or older); college-educated voters; suburban women and independents. Seniors were especially important in Biden’s primary victories, and his popularity with them is key to winning the all-important battleground states of Florida and Arizona. Clearly, a Biden coalition is coming into view, and his strengths could transform the electoral maps for many years to come.

It is with college-educated voters, suburban women and independents where Hogan has also been popular. These are voters his potential candidacy would seek to lure back into the GOP column. But their collective dissatisfaction with Trump may mean that these 2018 Democratic voters and potential 2020 Biden triers become even more committed to the Democrats in the years ahead. Hogan’s possible candidacy rests on his assertion that they will be up for grabs in 2024, and that he is best positioned to win them back. 

Hogan’s hopes are complicated by the fact that even if Trump is defeated, Trumpism will remain a force within the Republican Party. Trump’s support within his GOP base remains sky-high. His supporters are passionate believers in “America First,” building the wall, limiting immigration, espousing culturally conservative values, negating bad trade deals, and seeing China as America’s #1 enemy. Republicans such as Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period Trump pardons Michael Flynn O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE and Sens. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R-Ark.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyThe Memo: GOP mulls its future after Trump O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (R-Mo.) also have an eye toward the 2024 nomination, and they are unlikely to stray far from Trumpism. 

But these are not stances that a restructured Republican party led by Larry Hogan would embrace. Moreover, Trump has no intention of going away quietly and will remain a ubiquitous presence on Twitter and cable television (perhaps even acquiring his own cable network) long after the 2020 election fades into history.

An even more complicating factor is that it takes time for a party to understand what has happened and rebuild. A primary example is the Democratic Party during the 1980s. Back then, Democrats lost two landslide elections to Ronald Reagan. They suffered another humiliating loss to George H. W. Bush in 1988, making him the first vice president directly elected to the presidency since Martin Van Buren. Only then did Democrats realize they could not blame their candidates for their losses but that the party itself was at fault. So-called “New Democrats,” led by Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBiden's climate plans can cut emissions and also be good politics Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Obama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle MORE and Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreKey McConnell ally: Biden should get access to transition resources CNN acquires Joe Biden documentary 'President in Waiting' Former GSA chief: 'Clear' that Biden should be recognized as president-elect MORE, emerged. They were willing to discard old Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal-era ideas and embrace elements of Reagan’s message that government isn’t always the answer. But arriving at a winning formula took time, good candidates and luck. Meanwhile, progressives such as Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere MORE (I-Vt.) became disheartened by the party’s turn to the right. Their disenchantment continued under Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive things to know about Antony Blinken, Biden's pick for State Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation MORE, as they saw the first African American president stake out ground they viewed as not being progressive enough. 

Last August, I wrote in these pages that a Biden victory would prompt a period of Republican reflection, unlike either a Sanders or a Warren win whereupon the GOP would go into reflexive opposition. Gov. Hogan anticipates just such a thoughtful moment should Donald Trump lose and Democrats win the White House and the Congress for the first time since 2008. But whether Hogan can seize this potential opportunity is not up to only him. It is also in the hands of his fellow Republicans. For them, the questions will be: Does winning elections trump Trump? Or will adherence to a Trumpism without Trump be the path the party chooses to follow? Answers could take years.

John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. His latest book is “What Happened to the Republican Party?"