Politics

Larry Hogan, Chip Off the Ol' Block

Refusal to back Donald Trump recalls his father's stand on Richard Nixon

Larry Hogan Sr., left, and Larry Hogan Jr. at a June 20 fundraiser for Gov. Hogan in Greenbelt, Md. (Annie Groer for Roll Call)

Much has been made of the refusal of Maryland's Republican governor, Larry Hogan, to endorse or vote for the presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. The popular first-term governor of the heavily Democratic state will also skip the GOP convention in Cleveland next month.  

Although he has taken flak from some Republicans who believe he should embrace Trump for the sake of party unity, the governor is following something of a family tradition.  

In July 1974, his father, Rep. Larry Hogan Sr., became the first and only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate break-in and subsequent criminal cover-up.   

A lawyer, former FBI agent and Barry Goldwater alternate delegate to the 1964 GOP convention, Hogan Sr. hammered Nixon despite his long-standing admiration for the disgraced chief executive.    

"The thing that's so appalling to me is that the president, when this whole idea was suggested to him, didn't in righteous indignation rise up and say, 'Get out of here, you're in the office of the president of the United States. How can you talk about blackmail and bribery and keeping witnesses silent? This is the presidency of the United States,'" Hogan Sr. said at the time. "But my president didn't do that. He sat there and he worked and worked to try to cover this thing up so it wouldn't come to light."    

Those impeachment votes and a press conference called to rip Nixon's conduct helped derail the ambitious Maryland congressman’s pursuit of the GOP nomination for governor that year — the job his son, now 60, captured four decades later.  During Watergate, the apostate lawmaker waged a Republican primary battle against Louise Gore, a former state lawmaker and longtime party activist.  

Hogan's supporters and donors were outraged by what they considered an act of perfidy, and what he considers an act of principle. Gore won the primary but lost the general election to Democrat Marvin Mandel.  

This week, I asked the man everyone calls ‘Mr. Hogan’ to draw parallels between his Watergate stance and his son's rebuff of Trump. I first knew him as 'Professor Hogan' when I was a University of Maryland undergrad in the 1960s, and he taught the most valuable journalism course I would take: Law of the Press. Those of us who wrote for the student newspaper, The Diamondback, and thus routinely irritated the administration, couldn't have asked for a better First Amendment champion in navigating the minefields of libel, confidential sources, and public records.  

In 1974, the American people saw in this conservative Republican a staunch defender of the rule of law.   

"I had no choice, looking at the evidence, but I didn't have any joy doing it,'' Hogan, now 88, told me by phone from his home in Frederick, Maryland.  "President Nixon and his daughters came and campaigned for me when I ran for Congress. He was always an ally, and I felt like an ingrate." Even now, he praised Nixon for initiatives ranging from crime control to resuming relations with China. "If it hadn't been for Watergate,'' he said, "I think he would be remembered as one of our greatest presidents."  

During the committee hearings, Hogan was "inundated" by reporters both inside and outside the hearing room. "I couldn't go to the men's room without them following me. I told them I wouldn't say anything until I'd seen all the evidence."  

He finally made up his mind on the way back from a speech to a group of veterans.  "It was agonizing. And then I got home and told my wife," who was also a lawyer.  There was no family council where the pros and cons were privately debated, but just a decision based on damning facts, he said.  

Fast forward to 2016. Gov. Hogan — the oldest of five sons, who enjoys a 70 percent approval rating in Dem-centric Maryland — did not seek paternal guidance in deciding to reject Trump, and, by extension, Trump-supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Hogan's political benefactor. He didn’t have to.  

"Gov. Christie was very, very helpful to Larry and very instrumental to Larry winning," the elder Hogan told me. "He was chair of the Republican Governors Association. No one thought or dreamed Larry could win. Christie thought he could."    

With the added backing of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, "toward the end of the campaign, they got Larry $1 million,” said Hogan Sr. “We both have great admiration for Christie because he was so helpful.”  

Gov. Hogan returned the favor last year, backing his Garden State counterpart in the crowded 2016 GOP presidential primary.  

But that campaign was suspended in February, after a dismal showing in New Hampshire, and Christie soon endorsed the New York billionaire. "When Christie jumped ship and went with Trump, we both shook our heads and said, 'We are not going there,' " the elder Hogan told me.  

The Maryland governor has made his opposition to Trump — and his annoyance at being constantly asked about it — quite clear.  

The father continues to urge the son to show up in Cleveland — to lead the Republican establishment’s opposition to Trump: "I told Larry he should go to the convention, be recognized on the floor and nominate Mitt Romney," the GOP's unsuccessful 2012 nominee and a driving force in today's "Never Trump" movement.   

Don't hold your breath, though.  

At a Monday night fundraiser in Greenbelt, Maryland, attended by both Hogans, the governor laughed at the notion. "He keeps telling me I should go, but I have already committed to a number of events here in Maryland. Sometimes I listen to his advice, but not always."  

Washington journalist Annie Groer writes widely about politics, culture and design.

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