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The Morning Dispatch: Who Wants to Be a U.S. Senator?
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The Morning Dispatch: Who Wants to Be a U.S. Senator?

'It's basically arguing with 99 other people,' says Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Happy Thursday! We tried our absolute hardest to refrain from making a gazpacho joke, but it’s just such low-hanging soup.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Several more states are starting to ease remaining pandemic restrictions. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, announced Wednesday that New York’s statewide mask or vaccine requirement for indoor businesses would be lifted effective today, but school mask mandates will remain in place and be reevaluated in “early March.” Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, also a Democrat, plans to lift the state’s indoor mask mandate for businesses on February 28, but did not establish a timeline for when school mask mandates would end. GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, meanwhile, said Massachusetts’ statewide school mask mandates will expire on February 28.

  • The Biden administration, meanwhile, is not ready to adjust its masking guidance. “These decisions are going to have to be made at the local level,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said yesterday. “Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high. So, as we work towards that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday walked back some of her previous opposition to banning lawmakers and their spouses from trading stocks, telling reporters that the House will likely consider a bill “very soon,” but that such a ban should be “governmentwide.” Bipartisan momentum to address these potential conflicts of interest has been building for weeks.

  • The January 6 Select Committee announced Wednesday it had subpoenaed former Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro, who, “according to public reporting, interviews, and his own book, was involved in efforts to delay Congress’s certification of the 2020 election and ultimately change the election results.”

Republicans Keep Striking Out on Senate Recruits

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.)

One of the surest bets you can make in national politics right now is that Republicans will retake the House of Representatives in November’s elections. Kevin McCarthy is banking on it, as are the 29 House Democrats and counting who have already announced they will not run for reelection. The president’s party almost always sheds support in the midterms, and Republicans need to flip just five seats to secure the majority. The betting markets give them a nearly nine-in-ten chance.

But the Senate is a different story. Although Democrats’ current majority in the chamber is as narrow as possible—50 seats plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote—they have the benefit of a much friendlier electoral map this cycle. They only need to defend 14 seats, while Republicans have to defend 20—including five with retiring incumbents. To regain the majority, the GOP doesn’t need to just flip one seat, it needs to flip at least one more seat than it loses.

It’s still very possible—perhaps even likely—Republicans will be able to do just that. But candidate selection matters a lot more at the Senate level than the House level, and top GOP officials lost another highly sought after recruit this week. 

“I will not be a candidate for the United States Senate,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told reporters on Tuesday, putting to rest months of speculation. Currently serving his eighth (and final) year as the moderate Republican governor of an overwhelmingly blue state, Hogan was widely viewed as the only GOP candidate who could make the race competitive, let alone win. He said he called Democratic incumbent Sen. Chris Van Hollen “to let him know that he can rest easy and get a good night’s sleep tonight.”

With an approval rating in the mid-seventies, Hogan is one of the most popular governors in America, and early polling indicated that popularity could sustain itself even in a more nationalized U.S. Senate race. A 2019 Washington Post/University of Maryland survey found Hogan leading Van Hollen—who was overwhelmingly elected to the Senate in 2016—51 percent to 41 percent, and an internal poll conducted late last year had Hogan up 12 percentage points. But less than two weeks before the filing deadline, no serious Republican candidates have thrown their hat in the ring.

Republicans’ path to the Senate majority does not rely on Maryland by any means—Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada are all arguably more likely to flip. But party leaders would prefer to have as many bites at the apple as possible, and Hogan wasn’t the only top recruit to rebuff entreaties from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and National Republican Senate Committee Chair Rick Scott. 

Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire since 2017, announced in early November he would pass on the opportunity to challenge vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan. Less than a week later, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott ruled himself out of the race to succeed the retiring Sen. Pat Leahy. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey—a frequent recipient of Donald Trump’s ire because he refused to play along with 2020 election charades—maintains he has no interest in taking on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, though some close to him believe he could still change his mind.

Making the jump from governor to senator is difficult: John Hickenlooper pulled it off in Colorado two years ago, as did Rick Scott in 2018. But state-level bipartisan appeal doesn’t always translate to national politics. Just ask Montana’s Steve Bullock, or Ohio’s Ted Strickland, or Tennessee’s Phil Bredesen. 

Still, McConnell and Scott viewed Hogan, Sununu, Scott and Ducey as top candidates in their respective states for a reason. Senate Republicans don’t have to travel too far back in time to remember poor nominees costing them a chance to retake (or hold) the Senate.

‘It’s Basically Arguing With 99 Other People’

You know who’d be great to talk about Larry Hogan’s choice not to run for Senate? Larry Hogan. Declan caught up with the two-term governor Wednesday afternoon to discuss his decision, how he came to it, and what it says about our politics as a whole. The conversation is below, edited for length and clarity.

TMD: You said yesterday you appreciate all the people who’ve been encouraging you to run. Who were those people? And how many calls have you had about this with Mitch McConnell and folks in his orbit over the past couple months?

Hogan: There were a lot of leaders in the Senate, including Mitch McConnell, and Rick Scott, and Mitt Romney, and Susan Collins, and others who were calling me. We’ve had a couple of conversations with each of them, probably. And a lot of my fellow governors were encouraging me. A lot of our political team, and our supporters and donors of America United from around the country and from Maryland. There was quite a bit. Some of my longtime friends were pushing me to do it. So it was coming from all directions. 

I did listen to them all, and I’m not going to say I didn’t give it some consideration, but I got back to the same place I was at the beginning. I thought we could win the race, and I thought there were really convincing arguments for why I should run—they thought I could make a difference. But I also knew I have a really tough day job for nearly a year, and I didn’t want to leave that in the lurch while I focused on a political campaign. The bottom line was that, in my gut, I didn’t really want to be a senator.

TMD: Your job approval as a governor is obviously one of the highest in the country, but Maryland is a very blue state. Sen. Chris Van Hollen won the 2016 general election 61 percent to 36 percent. How much of your decision was based on that reality? Do you think your popularity as governor would’ve translated to a more national Senate race?

Hogan: I think there were three different polls that all had me beating Van Hollen by double digits head to head. On the favorability rating, I think he was at 43 percent and I was at seventy-something percent, 75 percent. So that was not any consideration at all. I believed I would’ve handily won the race. 

Now I realize they would’ve nationalized the race and tried to say, ‘Even if you like Governor Hogan, you think he’s done a good job, we have to stop Mitch McConnell from heading up the Senate.’ They would appeal to my more than two-to-one Democratic base. But there were push polls and questions on all that stuff, and it didn’t really sway. The margin got closer, but all the polls showed me beating Van Hollen about the same way I beat [2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee] Ben Jealous.

TMD: Setting aside the Maryland race, what do you make of Republicans’ chances of taking back the Senate overall?

Hogan: I think it’s a really good year for Republicans and a really bad year for Democrats, but I haven’t surveyed the landscape and looked at every state, all the candidates and races. Some of it will depend upon whether or not we screw it up or not, and whether or not Donald Trump interferes in some primaries, and maybe nominates people who can’t win a general election, or harms the candidate that can win a general election. So I think it’s possible, but we could be our own worst enemy.

TMD: You mentioned you don’t aspire to be a United States senator. You’ve been saying that throughout this process, and it doesn’t seem like you’re alone. Gov. Chris Sununu in New Hampshire bowed out of a similar Senate run, Gov. Doug Ducey in Arizona has thus far resisted the calls. Does being a senator stink? What makes it an unappealing job, compared to being a governor?

Hogan: I can’t speak for the other guys—I mean, I have had some conversations with some of them—but for me, I’ve spent my life being an executive: Founding and running several small businesses, and then running a state government with a $50 billion budget and 60,000 employees and making decisions every day that can impact people’s lives. It’s a completely different job than being a senator, where it seems as if, with all the divisiveness and dysfunction in Washington, not a lot gets done. It’s basically arguing with 99 other people and hoping to slowly, maybe, get a few things done. It’s almost the complete opposite of being governor, which is a much more powerful and more important position.

TMD: Who do you blame for that divisiveness and dysfunction? Or is it innate to the institution as a whole?

Hogan: I think it’s just that politics today is so divided and so angry. It’s both sides, the right and the left. It seems as if nobody really wants to make progress, they’re just more interested in winning arguments on Twitter, or pushing their agenda from the right or the left, but not being willing to even give up a little to get a lot done. They’re not willing to work across the aisle to actually come up with real, bipartisan, common sense solutions, which is what seventy-some percent of the people in America want them to do, but don’t feel like they’re doing.

TMD: You mention that 70 percent of normal Americans who aren’t super partisan. A lot of them are understandably just tired of national politics, and bowing out of the conversation—which in turn cedes the battlefield to these more extreme figures and ideas. If most Americans want bipartisan solutions, but people like you who are advocating for those bipartisan solutions are steering clear of Congress, how will our politics get better?

Hogan: First of all, I’m in a job now where I think I am making a difference, and I didn’t rule out any involvement in politics forever. I just said this year, I was not going to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate. I wasn’t bowing out or ceding the field. 

But I agree with you. I think it’s a huge problem that I’m very concerned about, that I wrote a couple chapters in a book about. The angriest and loudest voices are getting all the attention, but they don’t represent most people. And my concern is the exhausted, silent majority—I don’t want them to give up. We’ve got to keep them engaged, because otherwise you are ceding to the extremes of both parties, and then we get the results we get now.

TMD: I’m obviously not expecting to get the scoop today, but there’s lots of speculation that you’re considering a presidential run in 2024. What is your current thinking on that, and when do you expect to make a decision one way or the other?

Hogan: Well, Declan, I’ve decided that you are the guy I want to get the scoop. I think The Dispatch can break the news to the world that I am going to … finish my job as governor.

I’m really not trying to be coy. Obviously we have an organization, we’re staying active, I’m staying visible. I am about to catch a plane to go down to Orlando to speak to the National Association of Home Builders, there’s a convention down there with 40,000 people. I’m focused on my job as governor, and I’m trying to be a voice in the Republican Party to bring us back to a bigger tent and more sanity. Whether that turns into me running for anything or not, I really don’t know the answer to that question and don’t want to make that decision. I’ve said I’m going to finish out this job and have nearly a year to do that. So in January 2023, I think we’ll have plenty of time to sit down and figure out what the lay of the land looks like. But in the meantime, I’m going to just keep working hard and trying to make a difference.

Worth Your Time

  • When former President Donald Trump inked his “historic” trade deal with China in early 2020, the idea was that Beijing would purchase an additional $200 billion in U.S. exports by the end of 2021. That … did not happen. China bought only 57 percent of the exports it had committed to purchase, and U.S. exports to China likely would have been higher without Trump’s trade war and eventual agreement. “These estimates suggest the United States would have avoided trade war export losses of $24 billion (16 percent) in 2018 and $30 billion (20 percent) in 2019,” Peterson Institute for International Economics senior fellow Chad Bown finds. “Exports would also have been $26 billion (18 percent) higher in 2020 and $39 billion (23 percent) higher in 2021 than under phase one. Without the export losses in 2018–19, American taxpayers would also not have needed to foot the bill for tens of billions of dollars of farm subsidies. The trade war was also costly to the US economy through the impact of the US tariffs. Numerous economic studies have documented that the effect of the tariffs was to raise prices and hurt American consumers and companies buying imported inputs, harming American competitiveness by reducing employment and sales. Some sectors and workers may have benefited from the US tariffs, but those gains were more than offset by losses by others, resulting in overall damage to the US economy.”

  • In a recent Department of Transportation report, Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote that “zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways.” Although that sounds nice, it’s obviously not true, George Will argues in his latest Washington Post column, and it’s irresponsible to pretend it is. “The phrase ‘zero tolerance’ (of a virus, or violence, or something) is favored by people who are allergic to making judgments and distinctions: i.e., thinking,” he writes. “There must … be limits to prophylactic measures against even clear and present dangers. Otherwise, public health officials will meet no resistance to the primal urge of all government agencies: the urge to maximize their missions. … When Buttigieg identifies as ‘the only acceptable’ social outcome something that is unattainable, we see how government forfeits the public’s trust. Americans are hitting the mute button on government that calls life’s elemental realities and painful trade-offs unacceptable.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

 

Toeing the Company Line

  • On the site today, Charlotte has a piece looking at how everyday Ukrainians are preparing for the grim possibility of Russian invasion, Andrew has another digging into the controversy surrounding digital identity company ID.me’s government contracts, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Klon Kitchen critiques the anti-hawk foreign policy posture embraced by the new right.

  • In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome wonders if, after two years of restrictions, mandates, and government support, the United States is ready to once again give libertarianism a try. “The last 18-plus months of government activism, incompetence, and overreach do seem to have sparked another libertarian moment,’” he writes. “One that, unlike much of the ‘folk libertarian’ protests and populism that draw media attention, appears to be more substantive, important, and long-lasting.”

  • Jonah’s feeling grateful in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒). “Before you get furious at the next thing the conflict merchants want you to get furious about,” he writes, “remind yourself of the simple fact that this is a fundamentally good and decent country, in which all manner of good things have happened and are continuing to happen even though no one wants to tell you about them.”

  • In the latest Dispatch Podcast, the gang discusses the Republican Party’s decision to censure two of its own members, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, over their involvement in the January 6 investigation before moving on to the growing list of states that are finally lifting their mask mandates.

Let Us Know

If you had to choose one or the other, would you rather be elected to serve as a governor or U.S. senator? What do you imagine to be the best and worst aspects of the two jobs?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).