Larry Hogan 2024? Don't bet on it

What the heck… we might as well start speculating about the 2024 election since this one seems to be bogged down in Uncle Joe’s basement, for the time being, right? Politico dips a toe into that pool this week with some ruminations on the 2024 GOP primary race. (No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.) Whether the Republicans are searching for the heir to Donald Trump or a replacement for Joe Biden at that point, they’ll have to settle on somebody. So why not Maryland Governor Larry Hogan? For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Hogan showed up on Meet the Press this weekend to chat with Chuck Todd and the subject of the future of the party in a post-Trump world was put into play. Hogan didn’t sound like he was seriously considering the job for himself, but he did seem to imply that big, structural changes would be needed, and he invoked one of the most tired phrases in modern American politics. The GOP is going to need “a bigger tent.”

As rumors swirl that Larry Hogan is eyeing a run for president in 2024, the Republican governor of Maryland has some advice for the post-Trump GOP: Be more like me.

“I don’t know what the future holds in November, but I know that the Republican Party is going to be looking at what happens after President Trump and whether that’s in four months or four years,” Hogan said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

That, Hogan argued, should include becoming more inclusive.

“I think they’re going to be looking to, ‘How do we go about becoming a bigger tent party?’” he told host Chuck Todd.

The “bigger tent” trope has been with us for quite a while now and it’s always been a point of contention. If you’re looking at the game board strictly from the perspective of wins and losses, attracting a larger number of voters is a no-brainer. It’s just basic math. But the picture becomes more complicated when you ask yourself precisely how much you’re willing to compromise on the conservative platform and potentially dilute the message in the interest of drawing in more moderate, persuadable voters. (Assuming such still exist in any measurable numbers.)

It’s also not unfair to point out that Donald Trump stormed through the 2016 primary and went on to an admittedly narrow victory. He wasn’t exactly preaching the “big tent” theory or diluting the conservative message. And yet he still managed to attract some former Obama voters in the process. Perhaps we should acknowledge that the messenger is at least as important as the message in some cases.

But setting all of that aside, is Larry Hogan the Big Tent model people will be looking to on the rebound? At first glance, you might be tempted to think so. Hogan remains one of the most popular governors in the country, much to the frustration of Maryland Democrats. He wins elections by a wide margin in a decidedly blue state. Is that what it will take to win in a post-Trump world?

I would argue that it’s an unlikely scenario at best. Hogan’s high approval numbers in deep-blue Maryland are delivered in part because a lot of Democrats and liberals like him. That should be your first warning sign before picking this particular horse in the primary race. Hogan is a fiscal conservative who managed to lower taxes and spending in his state. And that’s great. But he’s also signed any number of gun control laws, isn’t exactly a pro-life guy, and speaks the language of the liberals rather fluently when he needs to.

Given how the 2016 primary worked out, how well do you suppose those sorts of positions are going to hold up on the debate stage when they’re put up against the likes of Ted Cruz? I’ll grant you that Hogan could potentially drag a lot more moderates along in the general election if he somehow survived the primary, but even then I think we’d have to admit that he could never fire up the base the way Trump has. That excitement and enthusiasm simply wouldn’t be there, and that’s the tradeoff you have to consider.

Rather than creating a “bigger tent” by watering down the message, perhaps the most successful candidate will be the one who can best make the case for traditional conservative values and how they are the more desirable choice when addressing the challenges we’ll still be facing four years from now. Fortunately, you’ve still got plenty of time to ponder that before you’ll need to worry about it.

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