As discussion continues concerning a potential Republican Primary challenge to Donald Trump, the name that continues to be mentioned is Larry Hogan. It isn’t without reason: He’s one of the most popular Governors in the country and doesn’t have anywhere else on the political ladder to land. His largest issue, as David Byler recently examined in the Washington Post, is whether he would appeal to Conservative Republican voters nationwide after governing as a Centrist in Maryland.
A smart candidate in this situation would begin to examine how best to appeal to the Right. As Byler’s data analysis clearly shows, a candidate will not be competitive with Trump simply running from the Center without winning over some Conservatives in the process. Hogan evidently ignored this memo. In a sit-down with the New York Times this weekend, he was asked his views on Abortion. This is how the Times describes it:
And asked whether he believed Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal nationwide, had been correctly decided by the court, Mr. Hogan replied in the affirmative: “I think so.”
Running as a pro-Roe candidate in a Republican Presidential primary is a quick path to irrelevancy. Rudy Giuliani was the last candidate to attempt this, and he was never able to gain traction while dropping out very early in the race. Past candidates without strong convictions on the issue, such as Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, John McCain were nonetheless prudent enough to move Right on the issue before running for President.
Besides Trump, the most successful candidates in recent memory to do well in Republican Presidential Primaries while often challenging the anointed front-runner (as Hogan would be doing) did so from a strong pro-life base of support. This would include Ted Cruz in 2016, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Mike Huckabee in 2008. Even Ronald Reagan, who Hogan would be seeking to follow the example of in challenging a sitting President, was pro-life by the 1976 election and used the issue to distinguish himself from the pro-choice Gerald Ford. Nobody is going to mistake Hogan for Reagan, Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum, but he at a minimum needed to start making inroads with the Conservative portion of the party.
What is more baffling about Hogan’s statement is that as the Times mentions, he has previously said he is personally pro-life. He very easily could have decided to tell the Times that he is personally pro-life, has been forced to work with a Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature, and that on the National level would appoint Constitutionalist judges while working to defund Planned Parenthood and reduce Abortions. That would have been a first step towards appealing to Republican primary voters without outright flip-flopping.
Hogan, for whatever reason, actually decided to move left on the issue by affirming Roe v. Wade. This position is no different from that of Democrats, most notably 2016 Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine, who claim to be personally pro-life and yet continue to defend Abortion-on-demand. Who Hogan received this advice from is unknown, but it is a colossal misstep that will be revisited frequently if the Governor decides to enter the race.
Making the decision to shift left on Abortion even worse is that pro-life Republican voters who view overturning Roe as a high priority are not inevitable Donald Trump voters in a contested primary. Looking at the numbers, these are voters broke for Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson at rates higher than the Republican primary electorate at large during the 2016 primary. While Evangelicals may have supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, that doesn’t mean all Evangelicals have forgotten about Trump’s decidedly immoral lifestyle, or that some wouldn’t consider voting against him in a primary again under the right circumstances.
Furthermore, since getting elected, Trump has done little to push the Republican congress towards defunding Planned Parenthood or passing a pain-capable Abortion ban. Both of these issues are pro-life priorities that went nowhere during a 2-year period in which Republicans controlled the White House and Congress. There is room to attack Donald Trump from the pro-life position that virtually all Republican primary voters hold, and it is completely illogical that the current most-likely challenger to Trump has no desire to take this opportunity.
There is a very narrow path towards competing with Donald Trump in a Republican Primary. It involves winning over many different groups of voters, and is a delicate balancing act. Pro-choice Republican voters are nowhere near the forefront of these groups. If pro-choice Republican primary voters are a major portion of a candidate’s base, then like it or not, that candidate will not receive enough of the vote to be remotely competitive.
By coming out in favor of Roe v. Wade, Larry Hogan has predestined that he will immediately be met by fire from Social Conservative groups and pro-life figures who may have been willing to hold back, listen, or work with him otherwise. If that happens and he finds himself unable to get traction if he enters the race, he will have no one to blame but himself for needlessly and haphazardly running against one of the Republican Party’s most important constituencies.