ANNAPOLIS, Md. — America’s most improbably popular governor, a Republican beginning his second term in perhaps the bluest state, resembles a beer keg with an attitude. Stocky and blunt, Larry Hogan, whose job approval is in the high 70s, has won twice in the state with the highest percentage of African-Americans of any state outside the Deep South. In 2016, Maryland voted more emphatically for Hillary Clinton — by 26 percentage points — than all but three other states. In 2018, Hogan was re-elected receiving a majority of women’s votes, and 28 percent of the African-American vote while running against a former head of the NAACP. Hogan won while almost 50 percent of Marylanders were saying they would vote against all Republicans in order to express contempt for Donald Trump. So, he won against a huge blue wave in a deep blue state.
But, then, Hogan had ended the “rain tax,” which was known as a “storm water remediation fee” until he rebranded it. It forced certain counties to tax everyone, sometimes based on the amount of “impervious surfaces” on their property. All the great and good in Maryland defended this as environmentally virtuous (supposedly helping the Chesapeake Bay). However, all but one member of the Legislature, which had veto-proof Democratic majorities in both houses, voted not to terminate their political careers by continuing to tax rain.
Because in 2016 Hogan was early in saying that he would neither endorse Trump nor attend the convention that nominated him nor vote for him. And because Hogan has voiced barely disguised disgust about the president’s comportment. And because Hogan’s father set an example of principled insubordination. And because he, Hogan, is term limited and hence has little to lose other than sleep, happiness and friends. For all these reasons, he is being importuned to challenge the president in Republican primaries. He says he is “listening” and has “not said no.”
He does, however, have a day job he is reluctant to neglect. And he soon will become chair of the National Governors Association. So, he clearly is not eager to mount a losing challenge — which it surely would be — just to unfurl the tattered flag of recognizable Republicanism. Opposing any incumbent president is not a day at the beach, and campaigning against today’s uniquely smarmy incumbent would be especially disagreeable. Hogan has, however, undergone, while governor, six rounds of chemotherapy (24 hours a day, five days a week, times six, spanning 18 weeks) to defeat an advanced and aggressive cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), so has endured something almost as unpleasant as Donald Trump.
Furthermore, his father, a former FBI agent and a Maryland congressman on the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, was the only Republican to vote for all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Probably for this reason he lost the 1974 Republican nomination for governor.
It is unlikely that Hogan will gratify those who are offering to hold his coat while he brawls with Trump. Still, this town on the Chesapeake Bay will remain known as the incubator of something else germane to today’s discontents.
In 1786, in response to a dispute between Virginia and Maryland over rights of navigation and commerce on the bay, Virginia’s Legislature asked all the states to send delegates here to a convention to consider how conflicts about interstate commerce could be handled under the Articles of Confederation. Only 12 men from five states attended, but two of them were prodigiously talented, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The meeting decided that there should be (in the words of Hamilton’s report to Congress) a conclave “at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next” to consider measures to make the Articles “adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” The result was the Constitution.
Today, in the U.S. Capitol, 28.3 miles west of where the Annapolis meeting occurred (in a tavern, long gone), a majority of congressional Republicans seem poised to support Trump’s evisceration of the Constitution’s architecture of checks and balances. By opposing a binding resolution disapproving the president’s declaration of an emergency, they would approve Congress’ acquiescence in the loss of its core power, that of controlling spending. These Republicans raise two questions: Why is there a Congress? And why are such Republicans receiving salaries?
Every Republican who supports the president in this trashing of the Constitution whose creation began here thereby violates his or her sworn oath to defend it and to “bear true faith and allegiance” to it. Voters should expel all of them from public life.
George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.