Club Trump comes to Annapolis

Senate President Mike Miller greets Gov. Larry Hogan on the House rostrum with Speaker Michael Busch. Governor’s Office photo

By Len Lazarick

Club Trump came to the Senate floor Thursday.

At the end of the 90-minute debate on the override of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill requiring greater use of solar and wind power, Democratic Sen. Jim Rosapepe hauled out Club Trump, the big stick Democrats are using to pound Hogan.

After a very rational back and forth between Democrats and outnumbered Republicans over who would benefit from more renewables and how much it would cost, Rosapepe said overriding the Hogan veto would also serve to counter Trump administration policy in favor of more production of oil and coal.

It was a fairly gratuitous remark given the fact-based debate form both sides that had preceded it. But it was a sign of the dominating theme among Annapolis Democrats whose outrage over Trump knows no bounds.

Democratic opposition to Trump policies in understandable. The new president has done what Hillary Clinton could not do — energize the Democratic base, stirring the progressives and even the center to action in the streets. But along with anger has come fear-mongering, hysteria, near panic and hyperventilation over every outlandish Trump pen stroke. Over-the-top rhetoric from the White House is met by over-the-top backlash.

Trump’s actions have given Maryland Democrats a bigger club to try to beat down the popularity of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and his chances for reelection. Challenge Trump on Obamacare repeal, they insist; condemn Trump on the refugee ban, they demand.

Democrats are particularly upset that Hogan made not even the slightest allusion in last week’s State of the State address to the severe budget problems Trump policies might cause for Maryland.

Hogan in hard spot

Hogan was already in a hard spot as a GOP governor who did not support Trump, attend his convention or vote for him. His connection to his buddy Chris Christie, the N.J. governor now shoved off the Trump team, does him no good. Hogan does have a friendly relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor; but Pence’s role and power is still unclear.

Hogan would like some favors from the Trump administration. These include a decision to relocate the FBI headquarters to Greenbelt and funding for the long-needed fixes to the rail tunnel in Baltimore. It is abundantly clear that Donald Trump does not grant favors to those who criticize or oppose him, but he is willing forgive those willing to show him the respect he thinks he deserves. And he thinks he deserves a lot.

This is why Hogan dutifully attended Trump’s inaugural, as did all but two of Maryland’s members of Congress.

Hogan is not likely to cave into Democratic demands that he publicly stand up to Trump. He’s more likely to bow down to the president in private, and hope for the best.

It is not clear what Democrats think having Hogan join them in loudly opposing the president would achieve, other than further alienating a president hyper-sensitive to public criticism and any of his supporters in Maryland. The state’s congressional delegation, particularly Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, are doing more to derail the administration agenda than any Hogan denunciation could do.

Republican Del. Pat McDonough said Hogan and Maryland have already permanently damaged relations with the White House. McDonough proudly wears the “Trump of Baltimore County” label the Baltimore Sun conferred, on which he says candidate Trump congratulated him.

McDonough says the Trump inner circle sees nothing to be gained by helping Hogan, Maryland or Baltimore, where the first action by the new city council was to condemn the incoming president. Trump is more likely to favor Virginia with any largesse, such as the FBI headquarters, to help regain the governor’s mansion there in this year’s election and its electoral votes in 2020.

Hogan is no worse off

Hogan is really no worse off than many Republican and Democrat governors whose budgets will suffer severely if the expansion of Medicaid health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act is no longer heavily subsidized by the federal government. That was always a hazard under the ACA, which is why some Republican governors never agreed to the Medicaid expansion.

According to legislative analysts, the ACA supports $1.4 billion in services to 312,000 newly eligible individuals. Any substantial cut in the federal subsidy would leave Maryland with a billion-dollar hole to maintain coverage of these folks. Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have promised to replace Obamacare with something better and cheaper — details to come some day — but they have not pledged a GOP replacement that would be as generous to the states for Medicaid.

A prolonged federal hiring freeze and cuts in non-military spending would also have an impact on the state budget from the loss of income tax revenues paid by government employees and contractors.

By wielding Club Trump against Hogan, Democratic pols hope to peel away their defectors and independents who helped elect him after eight years of Martin O’Malley. Any further criticism of Trump by the governor will further alienate strong Trump supporters in his Republican base.

Hogan’s popularity is sky high but his margin of victory was slimmer than most people recall — 51% and 65,510 votes. By capitalizing on an unpopular president, Democrats hope to switch some of those votes and tamp down the enthusiasm of Hogan’s rural base. That’s how O’Malley kept Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich to a single term.