Former President Donald Trump and the Democratic Governors Association were a match made in political heaven in Maryland, working independently to nominate Dan Cox for governor in the Republican primary.
Cox was a long shot to win the GOP gubernatorial nod in the deep-blue state. That is, until Trump provided one of his powerful, signature endorsements and the DGA meddled in the primary, spending $1 million on advertising to boost the state legislator’s name identification and appeal among grassroots Republicans. Armed with both, Cox routed Kelly Schulz, a centrist who fell 56% to 40% despite being backed by popular outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan.
In the process, the Republican gubernatorial nominee delivered Trump a victory in his proxy war with Hogan, undermining a possible competitor for the 2024 presidential nomination. And Democrats got what they wanted: the weaker general election opponent. Republican insiders expect Cox, a Trump acolyte who supports the former president’s stolen election claims, to get pummeled in the midterm elections in Maryland by the eventual Democratic nominee.
And Hogan himself said on Wednesday he would not vote for Cox in the general election.
The Republican Governors Association’s silence speaks volumes.
The RGA did not even bother to issue a statement congratulating Cox after his victory in Tuesday’s primary, suggesting the group is undecided on whether to put its financial and operational muscle to work for Cox this fall. The organization said it is still waiting to see who emerges as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Author and former military officer Wes Moore currently leads a crowded field.
The DGA, meanwhile, took a well-deserved victory lap. The winner of the Democratic primary was still unclear Wednesday, but the DGA moved quickly to initiate an aggressive assault against Cox, the group’s once-prized candidate.
“Dan Cox is a Q-Anon conspiracy theorist with an extremist track record who is unfit for office — and that’s just what his fellow Maryland Republicans like Larry Hogan have said about him,” DGA Executive Director Noam Lee said in a statement. “His record includes busing insurrectionists to the deadly January 6th rally and calling [former Vice President] Mike Pence a traitor while running on plans to completely ban abortion with no exceptions and make it easier for criminals to carry guns.”
Maryland is not just blue; it is among the most Democratic bastions in the country. In November 2020, President Joe Biden demolished Trump in the state 65.4% to 32.2%.
But Biden’s job approval ratings nationally have plummeted below 40%, and 2022 is shaping up as a red electoral wave. It was under similar conditions, in President Barack Obama’s second midterm election in 2014, that Hogan became just the fourth Republican in the last 100 years to win the Maryland governor’s mansion. Some political analysts predict it could happen again, saying Democrats are wrong to believe elevating Cox assures them victory on Nov. 8.
“Md. Dems should not take this general election lightly,” tweeted Josh Kurtz, the founding editor of Maryland Matters, an online publication focusing on government and politics in the Old Line State.
Many of Trump’s conservative critics agree. They have been quite critical of Democrats for, on the one hand, warning voters that Trump and his Republican allies are a mortal threat to democracy while, on the other hand, spending money to boost them in GOP primaries because such candidates are theoretically unelectable in the fall. Besides Maryland, Democrats did this in Illinois and Pennsylvania and are attempting to do the same in Arizona.
“Democrats are playing with matches,” Doug Heye, a Republican operative often critical of Trump, tweeted this month.
Of course, part of Hogan’s magic in Maryland owes to the fact that he never embraced Trump. During his two terms, the governor emerged as among the most prominent Republican critics of the former president in the country. It is among the reasons why he was able to overcome his state’s Democratic bent and become only the second Republican governor to win reelection (in 2018) since the 1950s.
However, losing a proxy battle with Trump in his home state and failing to push Schulz, former commerce secretary in his Cabinet, past a Republican aligned with the 45th president does not necessarily bode well for Hogan’s prospects.
To be sure, Hogan is not the first Republican with good poll numbers who could not transfer his political popularity to a handpicked candidate in a primary. Trump has experienced similar challenges in gubernatorial primaries in Georgia, Idaho, and Nebraska, plus some key congressional primaries. But with Hogan considered an underdog in any 2024 presidential primary, his candidate losing so spectacularly to Trump’s pick in his home state could sting long-term.