There’s a hunger, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan insists, for a brand of conservatism that doesn’t hew to the extremes of the Republican Party and isn’t tied to twice-impeached former President Donald Trump.

Hogan defied the odds and got elected and then reelected as governor with an image and message — purple surfboards, public safety, taxes — carefully calibrated to appeal to Democrats, but unmistakably Republican. He held onto his bipartisan popularity in part by criticizing Trump and has had his eye on the White House in 2024.

But this summer’s primary election made clear that Maryland Republicans are less interested in Hogan’s brand of politics, and the candidates he endorsed, favoring right-wing candidates like gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox, a 2020 election conspiracy theorist who was endorsed by Trump. Cox campaigned on opposing COVID restrictions and preventing “political or gender” indoctrination in schools.

Cox soundly defeated Hogan’s longtime ally and hand-picked choice to succeed him, Kelly Schulz, in the Republican primary for governor.

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“I don’t really see a path forward for him in the Republican Party as things stand, I really don’t,” said David Karol, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park who studies political parties.

Publicly, though, Hogan has remained undeterred. He’s not announced a presidential run but doesn’t deny that he’s continuing to explore it. Whether he runs or not, he says he wants to remain active in the national Republican conversation.

He’s traveled to other states to endorse anti-Trump Republicans and is active in centrist and bipartisan groups like the No Labels political organization. He’s also road-tested his message in politically relevant states, including the early primary state of New Hampshire this month.

The governor continues to talk to local reporters and make the rounds of national cable news shows to pitch his message that the Republicans need to step away from Trump and focus more on solving problems, such as rising inflation and failing infrastructure.

“We still have two-and-a-half years before the next election and I think things are going to change dramatically,” Hogan told The Baltimore Banner. “I think a year from now, nothing will look like it does today.”

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For one, Hogan anticipates Americans will only continue to feel burned by the two-party system that elects an ever-increasing number of candidates who skew to the political extremes on both sides. And Trump, while still popular with Republicans, will lose his luster.

“I think that market of people that are so fed up with politics, and with the far right and the far left of both parties, that’s now about 73% of America. And I think it’s going to continue to grow,” Hogan said. “I think Trump’s going to continue to diminish.”

It appears that Trump himself disagrees, telling a crowd at a recent rally: “So much for Larry Hogan’s presidential ambition. All he has to do is look into a mirror and he’ll say, ‘It’s not gonna work.’”

Here in Maryland, Hogan blamed Schulz’s loss not on her association with him or his level of effort in promoting her campaign. Schulz’s loss wasn’t a rejection of his style of Republican politics, said Hogan, who monitored the election night returns from Aspen, Colorado, where he was attending a Republican Governors Association meeting.

Rather, Hogan is blaming the Democratic Governors Association for “colluding” with Cox to boost his candidacy.

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The Democratic Governors spent at least $2.1 million on a TV ad and mailers describing Cox as too extreme for Maryland. The ad pointed out that Cox would seek to ban abortion and lift restrictions on gun ownership.

While the DGA officially registered paperwork in opposition to Cox and leaders insisted they were simply starting their general election messaging early, some saw the ads as doing double duty, as they may have sounded like music to the ears of Trump-loving Republicans.

Hogan hasn’t offered any proof of collusion, but it is clear the DGA and Cox had the same goal of getting Cox nominated. Cox has not responded to interview requests from The Baltimore Banner since election night.

Some Democrats wanted Cox as the nominee because they feel he’s going to be easier to beat in the general election, where there are twice as many Democrats as Republicans, plus a significant chunk of independent voters. Polling indicates Cox has a tough road to win over enough Democrats and independents to win in the fall general election against Democratic nominee Wes Moore.

Karol, the UMD professor, said Hogan’s playbook in Maryland won’t work nationally.

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“He was politically successful for a time, but he did that by distancing himself from President Trump and the turn the Republican Party took,” he said. “I think that was a necessary thing to do within the Maryland context, but it doesn’t leave him anywhere to go now.”

Early polling for 2024 indicates that Trump is still largely favored by Republican voters nationally, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The truth is that anti-Trump Republicans like Hogan are overrepresented in the news, Karol said.

“At the voter level, it’s a Trump party, not a Hogan party,” he said.

Karol sees other potential paths for governor that would work better than a presidential run: return to his real estate business, land gigs on corporate boards, hit the speaking circuit.

There doesn’t seem to be much interest in non-Trump politicians within the Republican Party, making it challenging for a candidate like Hogan to plan his future, said J. Miles Coleman with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

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“If he has a path, it’s very narrow,” Coleman said.

If Republicans are paying attention to the Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection, they may be turned off by Trump and the evidence that he encouraged the mob. But if Republicans turn away from Trump because of his baggage, they might instead pick someone like DeSantis or Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a rising star in the party, Coleman said.

Coleman suggested Hogan could get some attention if he talks about how he’s stood up against Maryland Democrats. The Trump era has shown that Republicans “really want to fight,” he said. Hogan frequently has used the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly or Baltimore City as a foil, criticizing them for spending or violent crime.

“Hogan can at least say he was able to successfully battle Democrats sometimes,” Coleman said.

James Appel, a Republican activist who chairs the party committee in Anne Arundel County, said the primary election boiled down to a test between the popularity of Trump and Hogan — which Trump won resoundingly with Cox’s victory. Only a small portion of Republican voters fall into the camps of never-Trumpers or Trump devotees, Appel said. Most Republicans support Trump generally even if “they didn’t love his personality” but also have voted for Hogan over the years.

“It was Trump versus Hogan and the Trumpsters were more excited about coming out to vote,” Appel said. “The Hogan supporters didn’t show up in numbers like the Trump supporters did.”

Appel said the interest in Cox’s candidacy was only stoked by the Democratic Governors Association ads. Those ads “really excited the Trumpsters and they’re the ones who showed up.”

As for Hogan, Appel thinks he’s got a more difficult path now in trying to remain relevant in national Republican politics.

“This was certainly a loss for Hogan,” he said. “I think he loses some of his influence.”

Schulz’s loss to Cox wasn’t the only race where Hogan’s chosen candidate fell short.

In the Republican primary for 6th Congressional district, Hogan-backed Matthew Foldi lost to Neil Parrott, a state lawmaker. And Democrat Thiru Vignarajah — who got a rare cross-party endorsement from the governor — finished second in a primary for Baltimore City state’s attorney.

The bright spot on Hogan’s record from this election was his daughter Jaymi Sterling, a career prosecutor who ousted the longtime state’s attorney in St. Mary’s County.

Democrats saw the poor performance of Hogan’s chosen candidates as proof that he actually has more support from Democrats than Republicans.

In public opinion polls, Hogan typically rates as high — or higher — among Democrats and independents than Republicans.

But with the Republican Party tilting to the right, and embracing the ex-president, it may be moving away from Hogan’s style of conservatism, said Yvette Lewis, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

“They wholeheartedly rejected Larry Hogan’s way,” Lewis said.

Conservative blogger Brian Griffiths, who is a “never Trumper” like Hogan, thinks the latest set of election losses by Hogan allies doesn’t bode well for the governor’s political future.

“Hogan 2024 is dead,” he said.

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Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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