Should Larry Hogan run for president in 2020?

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BALTIMORE – To millions of voters all over America, Larry Hogan is best known as Larry Who? For the uninitiated, he’s the governor of Maryland. But, just for speculation, he’s now being touted, even on the exalted op-ed page of the New York Times, as a 2020 candidate for President of the United States.

Part of this comes from last week’s inauguration of Hogan for an unprecedented second term. He’s a Republican. We don’t elect Republican governors around here, at least not very often, and certainly not twice.

Sixty-eight years ago, we elected Theodore McKeldin, but he was really a liberal Democrat in disguise. McKeldin goes back to the Eisenhower era. He’s the last Republican, until Hogan, ever elected to two terms as governor here.

After McKeldin, the next time Maryland elected a Republican governor, it was Spiro Agnew, who left after a couple of years to become Richard Nixon’s soon-to-be disgraced vice president. That was roughly half a century ago.

Eventually we got Republican Robert Ehrlich, who served a single term and lost his bid for re-election, thus becoming the only sitting governor, in all of America, in either party, who got defeated in 2006.

So how does Larry Hogan overcome such odds – and, more to the point, how does he come to have his name circulating as presidential material?

The quick answer to the first question is easy: He got elected because the Democrats, cocky as ever, ran a bum campaign. The answer to the second question – about running for president – is also easy: Donald Trump.

Hogan’s a Republican, and a conservative, but he was smart enough to keep his distance from Trump. He’s stressed political moderation, and reached out to Democrats who control the General Assembly. Civility’s a wonderful thing. Washington ought to try it sometime.

And now, with “Never Trump” Republicans searching about for a 2020 presidential candidate, a few things happened last week as Hogan was sworn in for his second term.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush showed up to say a bunch of flowery words at the Hogan inauguration. This brought some intra-party national attention. And The Sun newspaper ran a front-page story describing Hogan as a “rising star” among Republicans and conjecturing about a 2020 presidential run.

And then, over the weekend, came the New York Times and op-ed columnist Bret Stephens, and a headline that read: “A Republican Challenge to Trump? Larry Hogan can offer a serious and meaningful alternative to the corroded conservatism we have in Washington today.”

Stephens pointed out, “Hogan is attracting notice…partly because he’s one of only three Republican governors in deep-blue states. His approval rating is 68 percent in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

“But mostly,” the conservative Stephens noted, “Hogan makes no secret of his disdain for the president, though he goes out of his way to avoid mentioning his name.”

In his inaugural speech last week, though, Hogan pointed out that his father, former Congressman Lawrence Hogan, was “the first Republican to come out for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Despite tremendous political pressure, he put aside partisanship and answered the demands of his conscience to do what he thought was the right thing for the nation that he loved.”

If impeachment – anybody’s – sounds like a strange reference to make in an inauguration speech – well, we live in an odd time, when talk of a Trump putdown is rampant, and talk of the Republican Party’s future is up in the air – especially when so many of them seem so timid about criticizing this president in public.

If Trump’s still around for a 2020 run, would Hogan try to beat him in party primaries? Maybe not. But if Trump isn’t running, the field would be wide open.

We might get a little hint in March, in Iowa, where all sorts of presidential maneuverings commence. Hogan will be there, as vice chairman of the National Governors Association. It’ll also be a time to get further hints on his future, and his party’s.