Trump relishes another primary win, in Maryland, as GOP critics warn of political ‘suicide’

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(WASHINGTON) — Gov. Larry Hogan is a popular Republican who won two statewide elections in Democratic-leaning Maryland — but his full-throated endorsement didn’t mean enough to the Republican base in Tuesday’s primary.

Hogan’s preferred candidate, his former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, is projected to lose the GOP nod to succeed Hogan.

Instead, primary voters chose state Del. Dan Cox, a vocal critic of Hogan’s policies — in particular restrictions to combat COVID-19 — who was backed by former President Donald Trump, another Hogan foe. The governor, in turn, assailed Cox as a right-wing “conspiracy theorist.”

Hogan, a moderate who twice won over a majority of voters in a blue state, hoped to see a similar politician win the nomination to continue the GOP’s control of the governorship.

But Trump, as he has done to mixed success in other state primaries, weighed in to support the more conservative choice and relished the chance to punish a Republican critic.

It was Cox — who criticized the 2020 elections results; opposes abortion and restrictions on guns; and who has campaigned heavily against government’s role in public life, including COVID lockdowns and changes in education — who won out.

“RINO Larry Hogan’s Endorsement doesn’t seem to be working out so well for his heavily favored candidate,” Trump said in a statement after Tuesday’s race. “Next, I’d love to see Larry run for President!”

In remarks on Tuesday night, Cox said, “President Trump didn’t have to come alongside an outsider, a newcomer so to speak. Somebody that believed in his vision of America first. A person that believed in it for each one of us. But he did.”

Soon, Hogan’s office was telling reporters that he would not vote for Cox in November.

And, according to The Baltimore Sun, Schulz adviser Doug Mayer spoke sharply about who the base had chosen: “The Maryland Republican Party got together and committed ritualized mass suicide. The only thing missing was Jim Jones and a glass of Kool-Aid. I hope it was a good party.”

This year’s primary season has seen the next phase of the GOP’s political identity slowly form, race by race, across the country.

In Maryland as in some other states, like Arizona and Georgia, a relative sliver of high-profile Republicans have decided to challenge the Trump-backed candidates, many of whom baselessly question the 2020 election as he does or who run further to the right of the general electorate.

In Georgia, for example, the Trump choice lost handily. In Illinois and in Maryland, it was the reverse.

While that narrows the lane for local anti-Trump Republicans, some Democrats hope the victory of more right-wing nominees will give them a boost in the November midterms.

In Maryland as elsewhere, Democratic groups spent big on advertising in the Republican primary trying to raise the profile of Cox as the more conservative choice in a state with blue-leaning voters.

Observers says they may be right: The day after the primary, the Cook Political Report changed its rating for the Maryland governor from “lean Democrat” to “Solid Democrat.”

In a press conference earlier this month, Hogan blasted the Democratic Governors Association decision to advertise about Cox, saying Democrats were “spending over $1 million … [because they] desperately want [Cox] to be the Republican nominee.”

Cox reportedly attended that press conference, occasionally shouting back at the governor and at Schulz, then later posted a series of videos on social media that called the event “laughable” and “hilarious.”

So where does Tuesday’s result leave more moderate Republicans like Hogan? He has been pointed and emphatic about his hopes for the party repudiating Trump — as epitomized during a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California this past May.

“The last four years were the worst four years for the GOP Party since the 1930s, even worse than after Watergate when Ronald Reagan had to rebuild the party from the ashes,” Hogan said in remarks about the future of the Republican party. “We lost the White House, the Senate, the House. We lost governors’ seats, and state legislative bodies. Trump said we would be winning so much we’d would get tired of winning. Well, I’m tired of our party losing.”

Republican voters, though, aren’t tired of Trump. While a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, showed half of the party preferred someone else as a potential 2024 candidate, Trump was still the overwhelming favorite among a hypothetical field of candidates.

And a significant number of Republican candidates have found primary success sowing the same sorts of doubts that Trump embraces and that Hogan warned against. According to data collected by FiveThirtyEight, at least 120 election-denying candidates who ran for all sorts of down-ballot offices advanced from their primaries and will be on the general election ticket in November.

Cox likewise attacked the 2020 election. He called former Vice President Mike Pence a “traitor” for certifying the 2020 election results in now-deleted tweets. (He later apologized.) He also organized buses to drive Maryland residents to Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, though he said he didn’t go to the Capitol and denounced the rioting that broke out there.

Schulz’s loss is deflating for Hogan for another reason: He opted-out of a run for Senate but has yet to take a presidential bid off the table, citing his belief that he has a winning brand of Republican politics.

In an interview with CBS News earlier this month, Hogan said “more and more people are encouraging” him to consider campaigning.

“There’s a diminishing number of folks that are wanting the former President Trump to run,” he told CBS. “There’s a growing number of people that are looking for our kind of successful, bigger-tent politics.”

ABC News’ Alisa Wiersema contributed to this report.

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