Despite Governor Hogan’s wide popularity, which we have written about more than enough times, his legislative achievements have been somewhat limited thus far, despite a nearly full term in office. This is in large part due to the fact that the tightly-controlled Maryland Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both houses of the legislature, making it child’s play for the Democratic leadership to override any Hogan vetoes and effectively do whatever they want. Similarly, it is nearly impossible for any conservatively originated legislation to pass through the legislature and make its way to the governor’s desk. As a result, Governor Hogan’s achievements have been anchored by executive action, things he can undertake without the approval of the legislature. If Hogan wants his (prospective) second term to accomplish anything more than his first, he and the Maryland Republican Party need to focus on growing their party and winning more seats in the legislature.
Which is exactly why I am so mystified about his relationship with State Senator Steve Waugh. The governor has not only been unsupportive of Waugh, one of just 14 Republican state senators in Maryland, but he went so far as to endorse Waugh’s challenger, newcomer Jack Bailey, in the Republican primary in an attempt to oust him from the state legislature.
Senator Waugh’s district is way down in Southern Maryland, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, traditionally very deeply conservative territory that has become more moderate over the past decades due to an influx of white collar and college educated tech workers associated with the Patuxent Naval Air Station and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Though it still holds a strongly conservative base, it isn’t the easiest district for Republicans to win anymore. So why on earth would Governor Hogan turn his back on an incumbent state senator of his own party?
Basically, Senator Waugh is known as someone who isn’t very easy to get along with, he’s viewed by many as pompous and aloof, and prone to rub people the wrong way. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was this: the good senator voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would bar asking about criminal arrests on college and university application forms, a bill the Governor’s office said would make schools less safe. It is important to note that Senator Waugh did not have the deciding vote, and in fact the veto was overridden with 4 votes to spare. It is also important to note that Senator Waugh supported all other 13 of the governor’s 14 vetoes. Backing Senator Waugh’s challenger is tantamount to personal pettiness on Governor Hogan’s part, and it’s certainly boneheadedly stupid from a political standpoint.
When you want to grow your party’s influence, you have to, in almost every case, broaden the scope of your party. During President Obama’s first term, the DNC began ousting incumbent, pro-life Democrats by supporting their pro-choice primary challengers, a move which, in combination with other factors, cost the Democrats 68 seats in the House of Representatives over the course of three election cycles. FDR faced many of the same challenges and got mixed-to-negative results when he publicly backed more liberal candidates in Democratic primaries against “Blue Dog” conservative Democrats.
I could cite dozens more examples; the Democratic “Hawks and Doves” of the 1960s, Teddy Roosevelt and his progressive “Bull-Moose” party, or even more recently the schism between Progressive Sanders supporters and Moderate Clinton supporters during the 2016 Democratic Primary. But time after time, the lesson remains the same: when party leaders start picking internal fights, problems follow and political power dwindles.
So now we return to Hogan. By publicly, and strongly, supporting a primary challenger against an incumbent, he’s turned what would have been a relatively unimportant state senate primary into a referendum on his own term of office and possibly his vision for Maryland Republicans. I wish I had pictures from my recent visit to Southern Maryland, but I am not exaggerating when I say that every single Jack Bailey sign has a “Hogan Endorsed!” addendum tacked on to it so large that it practically covers Bailey’s name. So important to Bailey’s chances is the Governor’s endorsement and support that he is running almost exclusively on it.
This is dangerous territory for the Governor, and it could end up hurting him, as picking sides in a primary fight so often does. If Senator Waugh wins, Hogan is damaged politically by the proxy loss, and also may have made himself an enemy in the legislature where he has few enough friends as is. If the more moderate Jack Bailey, Hogan’s hand-picked candidate wins, then he runs the risk of driving away conservative voters from the polls in November, keeping away conservatives that the Governor still needs to vote for him at the top of the ticket in what promises to be a tight gubernatorial race, creating what I’ll call a “Hillary Clinton effect.” In turn, lower Republican turnout in the fall could even lead to Bailey losing to a Democrat, a scenario which, while unlikely, is still plausible and would be the exact OPPOSITE Hogan’s desired result.
In short, while I still think he’s been doing a good job as governor and seems to be the best person for the job, Hogan is acting like someone who doesn’t know a damn thing about party-building. Endorsing a challenger over an incumbent of your own party amounts to nothing more than petty animus. Sometimes, support on 13 out of 14 issues is going to have to be good enough. We’ll know later today who won this primary fight, but for now I’ll just say to Governor Hoan: this is your last chance to get a legislature more favorable to your goals, so it’s time to focus on the big picture. Stop being a baby and build a party. Temperamental judgements only hamper your ability to affect your will.