Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican and outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, wrote in Ronald Reagan for president when he cast his 2020 ballot.

“I know it’s simply symbolic. It’s not going to change the outcome in my state. But I thought it was important to just cast a vote that showed the kind of person I’d like to see in office,” Hogan told The Washington Post in an interview released Friday.

The Maryland governor, a moderate Republican speculated to be considering a 2024 presidential bid, has long been critical of Trump, and the pandemic has exacerbated the tension between them.

In April 2020, he penned a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post calling out the administration’s “bungled” early testing efforts.

Hogan previously obliquely criticized Trump and Washington partisanship during his second inaugural address in January 2019.

“Let’s repudiate the debilitating politics practiced elsewhere — including just down the road in Washington — where insults substitute for debate, recriminations for negotiation, and gridlock for compromise; where the heat, finger-pointing and rancor suffocates the light, and the only result is divisiveness and dysfunction,” he said. “Most of us are sick and tired of all that drama.”

From Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland:

On Memorial Day weekend Ronald Reagan fulminated at a stadium rally about “arson and murder in Watts” The Times led its report noting that when the emcee, Chuck Connors, the television cowboy, said that you could search “from the coasts of Maine to the coasts of California” and not find another politician like Reagan, someone shouted, “Try Arizona!” The Times reporter was impressed that Reagan didn’t take the bait: he never mentioned Barry Goldwater, and “did not sound much like the conservative hero. He only talked about the same things.” That Reagan represented Goldwater’s ideas without Goldwater’s liabilities was precisely why his boosters backed him for governor in the first place. The Newspaper of Record’s conclusion suggested their political instincts had been correct.

This San Diego speech was a typical performance. Reagan pointedly distanced himself from the “nuts and kooks of the extreme right” — thought he also courted them by humoring their paranoia: after a microphone failed and was replaced by another, he joked: “How about that, we found one they didn’t cut!” He worked in a reference to Vietnam that simultaneously hammered the administration and distanced him from accusations of unpatriotic meddling: “A suspicion prevails” — note the artful passivity — that American troops “are being denied the right to try for victory in that war”. The Times observed how, when the subject turned to Berkeley, “he dwells on ‘sexual orgies…so vile I cannot describe it to you.’” That got the wildest applause of all.

He spoke of outrageous taxes (“There’s no more leeway for squeezing people”), “the philosophy that only the government has the answer,” that under Great Society bureaucrats “we cannot remain a free society”. He announced as his campaign theme the “Creative Society,” where “the people have the strength and ability to confront the problems before us.” (For example, since state hospitals and mental institutions were “in a sense, hotel operations,” an expert committee of hotel operators could oversee them instead of “government planners.”) He savaged skyrocketing welfare programs that brought migrants to the state to “loaf”. The California Supreme Court had just invalidated Proposition 14, the anti-open-housing referendum passed in 1964, and Reagan didn’t like that one bit: “I have never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property. This has nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with our freedom, our basic freedom.”

Why is Ronald Reagan the “kind of person” Larry Hogan “would like to see in office” and Donald Trump isn’t? It cannot be that Trump substitutes “insult for debate” and Reagan did not (“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah”). It cannot be that Trump undermines the effectiveness of government and Reagan did not (“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”). It cannot be that Trump engages in the politics of “divisiveness” and Reagan did not; after all, Reagan was one of the first exploiters of a set of cultural grievances, around hippies, black people, feminists, college students, and intellectuals, that drove conservatives to power in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. And it cannot be that Trump has bungled this pandemic so horrifically in a way that Reagan would not have. Reagan, it should be remembered, had his own pandemic, one which he gleefully ignored for years. There’s a famous exchange between the White House press secretary, Larry Speakes, and a reporter inquiring about Reagan’s attitude towards the AIDS crisis:

Reporter: An estimated 300,000 people have been exposed to AIDS, which can be transmitted through saliva. Will the president, as commander in chief, take steps to protect armed forces food and medical services from AIDS patients or those who run the risk of spreading AIDS in the same manner that they forbid typhoid fever people from being involved in the health or food services?

Speakes: I don’t know.

Reporter: Could you—is the president concerned about this subject, Larry—

Speakes: I haven’t heard him express—

Reporter: —that seems to have evoked so much jocular—

Speakes: —concern.

Reporter: —reaction here? You know—

Speakes: It isn’t only the jocks, Lester….

Reporter: No, but, I mean, is he going to do anything, Larry?

Speakes: Lester, I have not heard him express anything on it. Sorry.

Reporter: You mean he has no—expressed no opinion about this epidemic?

Speakes: No, but I must confess I haven’t asked him about it. [Laughter]

Reporter: Would you ask him, Larry?

Speakes: Have you been checked [for HIV]? [Laughter]

The essay I’m quoting from adds, “Two years after this press briefing—five and a half years into the epidemic—we had accumulated 28,712 reported AIDS cases, 24,559 deaths, and the almost-certain probability of hundreds of thousands of existing infections that had not yet manifested as clinical AIDS. The president of the United States had still not publicly uttered a single word on the subject.” Reagan believed AIDS to be a disease that killed gays, much in the same way that Trump believes Covid to be a disease that kills blue state residents. In both cases, the people being harmed were not “their people”. So why would either of them care?

One of the myths at the heart of American politics involves the notion of redemption. Men — at least, certain men — can be redeemed. George W. Bush snorted cocaine, drank hard, partied harder, and dodged the Vietnam War. But, once he was born again, and Jesus entered his heart, those sins were forgiven (“Asked during a debate to name his favourite “philosopher-thinker”, Mr Bush replied: “Christ, because he changed my heart.”) Every other day, it seems, members of the media wish Trump himself to be redeemed; this, they’ll say, is when he will start acting presidential, calm down on Twitter, adopt a new tone. Perhaps political parties can be redeemed too. Trump, most of us can admit, is a vulgarian, and incorrigibly so. But that need not mean that the Republican Party is condemned to vulgarianism. Perhaps by stretching our horizon far enough back: to Dubya, to elder Bush, to Reagan, to Eisenhower, or even to Lincoln, we can grasp onto a fragment of memory that might inspire the next generation of Republicans. Perhaps the Republican Party can be born again, like so many of its constituents and even leaders.

It is probably unnecessary to say that I find this idea risible. Redemption requires self-reflection. It also requires a desire to change. It’s worth remembering why the GOP was corrupted in the first place. It chose to side with a certain type of voter, to inflame and promote their grievances in order to win elections. I’m talking about these people (again, I’m quoting from Nixonland):

In the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, speaking atop a mammoth harvesting machine, after loosening up the crowd with quips, he started talking about what his handlers had told him to talk about, farm policy. His audience shifted in their seats, bored. He started talking about how anyone coming to California could start drawing a welfare check within twenty-one days. That was false: only those who could prove five years of California residence in the last nine could get welfare, and then only after twenty-one days. It delivered him the crowd nonetheless. “Everything he says is America,” a young woman told a reporter. An old lady chimed in, “[Governor Pat] Brown has practically ruined the state. He has a nice home but he lets the Negroes come right next to you.”

The people powering the Republican Party now are the same people that thrilled to it 50 years ago, and, in doing so, remade American politics. They don’t want to self-reflect. They don’t want to change. They don’t want to hear about farm policy. They don’t want to hear about any policy, really. They want to get angry, and preferably at the right people. People like Larry Hogan, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and the rest are either fooling themselves or trying to fool everyone else. There is no appetite for replacing Trump with a good, decent man, someone who will “repudiate the debilitating politics” of the last decade. They have exactly the man they always wanted.


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