Maryland Republicans: The 2022 Gubernatorial Primary

Michael Steele and Kelly Schulz run for governor

The 2022 Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary is almost as fun as watching the Democrats quibble over who among them is the most progressive.

Even Maryland Republicans are turning the contest into a Donald Trump litmus test.

Doing so tragically forces even the sanest of Maryland Republicans to take a hard right turn.

But first, let’s talk about Maryland Democrats.

Democratic primary voters must decide between Peter Franchot and not Peter Franchot.

Keep an eye on Wes Moore as the anti-Franchot candidate.

Remember this: The Democratic Party’s left flank will not win moderate Democrats who twice elected Larry Hogan.

Marylanders elected two Republican governors in the last 19 years.

And not by accident.

In 2021, political columnist Louis Jacobson ranked Maryland’s governorship as one of the “most vulnerable” to switch political parties this year.

“The most vulnerable governorship on our list is the open seat in deep-blue Maryland that moderate Republican Larry Hogan is vacating,” Jacobson wrote in a recent column.

Larry Hogan’s [two] successful elections proved that Maryland is politically purple.

Moderates win in Maryland.

But Maryland Republicans have a choice.

Sanity versus Batshit Crazy.

Do Maryland Republicans want to win in 2022?

They have a real shot of winning the general election if they nominate former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.

Governor Larry Hogan has endorsed Schulz and is actively campaigning for her.

On the flip side, Maryland Republicans could choose batshit crazy: QAnon Dan Cox.

Boyd Rutherford is out; Kelly Schulz is in

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R-Sane) announced on April 14 he lacked a burning desire to run for Maryland governor in 2022.

Who can blame him?

On the same day Rutherford shared his plans not to run, Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz (R) announced her entrance into the gubernatorial contest.

A Miner Detail, incidentally, was the first Maryland media outlet to report Schulz’s gubernatorial launch.

Were Rutherford and Schulz’s announcements planned for the same day?

Sources close to Hogan say no.

Come on, Madam Secretary; at least give Rutherford a day or so to enjoy his moment. He earned it, after all.

Did Kelly Schulz bank herself any political goodwill whatsoever with Team Hogan by launching her campaign only three or four hours after Rutherford made public his own plans?

Hogan’s people were pissed at Schulz for jumping the proverbial gun, A Miner Detail was told, by sources close to the governor and his top aides

Timing issues notwithstanding, now is Schulz’s moment to make some noise with Maryland Republican primary voters.

Since her April campaign launch, Schulz’s near silence hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Although some of her behind-the-scenes campaign personnel decisions caught the attention of the governor.

How do you predict Mr. Hogan reacted when he first learned that Kelly Schulz’s campaign brought on his political fundraiser, Allison Meyers, to raise money for her bid?

Again, sources close to Hogan say he was less than pleased with Schulz.

Is it any wonder why the governor passed on a convenient opportunity to publicly introduce his commerce secretary as Maryland’s next governor  at Chris Cavey’s annual August pig roast?

Some establishment Republicans seemingly believe Kelly Schulz is Larry Hogan’s hand-selected successor.

Behind closed doors, the governor, while still friendly with Schulz, isn’t betting on her to win the Republican primary, sources close to Hogan tell A Miner Detail.

Mr. Hogan is holding his political cards tight against his chest. He doesn’t owe anybody anything.

For all of Larry Hogan’s congenial, good-guy qualities, he’s still a politician who cares about his reputation.

That’s not to disparage Hogan, but politicians are masters of self-preservation; their political legacies are a matter of pride.

Who among the current crop of Republican gubernatorial candidates bolsters Mr. Hogan’s legacy?

Peter Franchot?

Oh, wait: Mr. Franchot is running as a Democrat, though his partnership with Hogan is memorable.

How about former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele?

You’ll remember that Mr. Steele and Mr. Hogan were crucial leaders in former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr’s (R) administration.

Michael Steele forms a gubernatorial exploratory committee 

Michael S. Steele, Maryland’s first Black lieutenant governor, formed a gubernatorial exploratory committee in July 2021.

Mr. Steele has for years flirted with running again for statewide office after his unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate campaign.

A brief history first.

Michael Steele chaired the Maryland Republican Party from 2000 to 2002 and later the Republican National Committee, from 2009 to 2011.

He lost his RNC chair re-election bid to Reince Priebus in 2011.

Sources close to Steele say he’ll officially launch his gubernatorial bid sometime around Labor Day or later in September.

He’ll enter the Maryland’s GOP primary with high name recognition and equally reserved skepticism amid disgruntled Trump supporters.

It’s anybody’s guess whether Steele fends off enough Trump Republicans to win the primary.

Wouldn’t Steele and Schulz essentially compete for the same Republican voters – the Hogan base, the Republican moderates, business-focused fiscal conservatives; these are the same Republicans who voted for Joe Biden?

The truth is, like it or not, Michael Steele is a fundamentally stronger general election candidate than Kelly Schulz, assuming, of course, Republicans choose pragmatism in 2022.

But don’t count on the Maryland Trump Republicans to operate within the confines of rationality.

Not that Kelly Schulz is irrational.

She’s not; she’s aligned with Larry Hogan’s moderate style of governing.

But the two parties’ fringe and polars endlessly despise political pragmatism.

Try this experiment: Mention U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) at a Washington County Republican Central Committee meeting.

Apoplexy ensues.

Now try this: Mention Joe Manchin at a Montgomery County progressive Democratic function. Prepare to be thrown into oncoming traffic on 270.

(Take heart! Traffic relief is on its way, Montgomery County – thanks in part to Larry Hogan and Peter Franchot, God Bless them.)

For all intents and purposes, Michael Steele is a traditional conservative: He’s a pro-life, freedom-loving, military-supporting, business-minded Republican who believes in the virtues of limited government, free enterprise, and individual initiative.

“I am an American, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” Steele wrote in an October 2020 NBC News op-ed, explaining his decision to vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Here’s an excerpt from Steele’s op-ed:

Rather than binding up the nation’s wounds, Trump exacerbates division. Rather than standing up to the world’s dictators, Trump cravenly seeks the favor of thugs. Rather than fostering free enterprise, Trump embraces economic principles not only outdated in Lincoln’s time but made even worse today by a leader who lost close to a billion dollars in a single year running a casino. Rather than seeking to build on the legacy of the Republican Party’s founders, of which Trump is surely ignorant, Trump has posited a single purpose for the GOP — the celebration of him.

Consequently, America has watched as the Republican Party stopped pursuing its animating principles of freedom and opportunity. It has given up its voice on things that mattered and instead bent the arc of the party towards the baser motives of one man, who is neither a Republican nor a conservative.

Imagine a Trump loyalist reading Steele’s op-ed. It would be like Beansie Gaeta taking a car ride with Richie Aprile (another Soprano’s reference).

Even more damning in the eyes of a Trump supporter, Steele joined the Lincoln Project last summer, a political action committee formed in 2019 by prominent national Republican operatives to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Mission: Complete.

You may remember some of the Lincoln Project’s digital ads.

Check them out here, here, and here.

Imagine a Trump supporter processing the former Republican National Committee chairman cutting a digital ad for Joe Biden?

Who cares what Maryland Trump Republicans think.

No Trump Republican will ever win statewide in Maryland.

Just do the math.

Michael Steele understood the consequences of supporting Donald Trump for re-election. He called out Donald Trump, as did Larry Hogan.

But did Kelly Schulz? Where are her denunciations of Trump when he attacked women, minorities, American ideals, and our American institutions?

Where is Kelly Schulz’s statement condemning Donald Trump for lying about COVID-19 and his administration’s earth-shatteringly horrific response?

Where is Kelly Schulz’s rebuke of Trump for his role in the Jan. 6th insurrection, for which he was impeached, again, becoming the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice by the U.S. House of Representatives?

Where is Kelly Schulz’s public admonishment of Donald Trump’s numerous false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him because of massive voter fraud that doesn’t exist?

Michael Steele’s Trump condemnations are readily accessible via a quick Google search. The same with Larry Hogan.

Instead of condemnations, you can find Kelly Schulz parroting Donald Trump’s rhetoric; recently and inexplicably, Schulz denounced mask mandates as the deadly Delta variant, the highly transmissible version of the coronavirus, rips through the U.S., taking more American lives.

“These new mask mandates have little to do with creating better health outcomes and everything to do with appeasing far-left political activists,” Schulz wrote on her Facebook page in early August.

Maybe it’s Kelly Schulz who’s content to appease and assuage far-right Trump Republicans.

These are the same Republicans already distrustful of anyone tangentially connected to Gov. Hogan, whom they despise even more than Maryland Democrats, it seems.

How will Schulz’s anti-masking comments play in swing counties like Frederick, Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel?

Maybe the commerce secretary is trying to pick off a few of the Trump Republicans lining up in droves behind the same guy who tweeted that former Vice President Mike Pence (R) is a “traitor?”

Kelly Schulz blasts mask mandates

If you were one of the higher-ups in the Republican Governors Association watching a leading Republican gubernatorial contender shovel Donald Trump’s fallacious COVID-19 rhetoric, a state Trump lost in 2020 by over 30 points, you, too, would be on the horn, urgently scrambling to facilitate a meeting between Michael Steele and Larry Hogan.

Kelly Schulz is a fundamentally decent person with a convincing resume to succeed Larry Hogan. She doesn’t need to pander to Trump’s base to win a Republican primary. Her record speaks for itself.

But if Kelly Schulz continues her rightward slide towards Trumpism, state Republicans who enjoyed split government over the last six years may come to see Michael Steele as the only Republican who is credible enough to challenge Rushern Baker, Peter Franchot, Wes Moore, Tom Perez, or Doug Gansler in what is expected to be one of the most expensive Maryland gubernatorial elections in history.

But, again, that’s assuming most Republicans operate within the confines of rationality.

Dan Cox is Maryland’s Trump whisperer

U.S. Capitol insurrectionist transit provider Dan Cox (R-QAnon) surprised no one on July 4 when he announced his intention to run for governor – an elected office for which he’s uniquely unfit to hold and one that he has zero chance of winning.

Cox’s fellow 2020 election deniers and like-minded Marjorie Taylor Greene devotees were aflutter with glee at the prospect that an X-rated version (correction: Q-rated version) of Drunk Uncle could temporarily relocate Sheppard Pratt’s headquarters to Annapolis, come 2023.

Dan Cox is the pitch-perfect manifestation of the modern Republican Party base when you really think about it.

He’s a QAnon conspiracy promulgator; he denies the results of the 2020 presidential election; he’s a foot soldier in the endless culture wars Republicans love; he oscillates daily between Facebooking his anti-mask and anti-vaccination propaganda and heading up the “I Hate Larry Hogan’s COVID-19 mandates” victim support group.

In the immortal words of the late Livia Soprano, “Oh, poor you.

Last year, Cox, a practicing “constitutional attorney,” led a gaggle of like-minded gowks, suing Gov. Hogan over his (legal) statewide COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and regulations.

Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci, the master of political clapbacks, responded to Cox’s lawsuit with an appropriately condescending shoulder dust-off:

“We fully respect Delegate Cox’s right to protest and express his feelings — and even copy and paste lawsuits from other states — but that doesn’t entitle him to make false and baseless claims. The overwhelming majority of Marylanders agree with the steps that the governor has taken to save lives, and we are all in this together.”

A federal judge affirmatively rejected Cox’s lawsuit. However, the same judge sadly failed to hand Mr. Cox a few Neutrogena Cleansing Towelettes to remove his clown makeup.

Maryland Democrats are over-the-moon giddy at the prospect of Dan Cox winning the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Just picture for a moment Dan Cox’s primary election-night victory party line-up.

Are you giggling yet?

Imagine his tentative roster of speakers: Rudy Guiliani, Kimberly Guilfoyle, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, George Papadopoulos, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, and, if they’re lucky, conservative media star Dan Bongino, oh, boy!

Dan Cox is an illegitimate gubernatorial contender with a legitimate pathway to winning the Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary.

If Cox does manage to win his party’s nomination for governor, the election is over.

Game: Democrats.

Some of Dan Cox’s most outspoken social media warriors would have you believe Mr. Cox couldn’t possibly lose a general election.

Then again, Mr. Cox shares a political base with Donald Trump; these are endearing folks who still believe that John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman, operates an underground child sex ring beneath one of the District of Columbia’s most popular pizza joints.

Day after day, Mr. Cox shamelessly paraphrases (and steals) Donald Trump’s foolish rhetoric, a transparently pitiful bow before his cult leader.

Dan Cox wants nothing more than to grab the attention of the twice-impeached, secretly COVID-19 vaccinated former president; he needs Donald Trump to weigh in on Maryland’s gubernatorial race in his favor.

Isn’t it sort of pathetic watching a grown man shred every last bit of dignity to his name to curry favor with a McDonald’s Grimace impersonator? Poor Grimace; he doesn’t deserve that.

Then again, there’s always Lindsey Graham.

Maryland Trump Republicans are the perfect example of a group of people willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

They’d rather lose a general election with an obsequious Trump loyalist than nominate a Republican who doesn’t take their policy cues from One America News Network, whatever that hell that is.

Nominating Dan Cox for governor?

Here comes a new Netflix documentary.

Republican Robin Ficker is running for governor 

Whatever you think about Robin Ficker, he is the most successful Montgomery County political activist in 30 years.

Don’t discount him, and don’t ignore him. He has a message to deliver, and he’ll singlehandedly outwork every candidate running.

Ryan Miner is the Editor, Founder and Publisher of A Miner Detail, a Maryland politics blog featuring Maryland political news, political commentary and opinion. He is the host of A Miner Detail Podcast

Feedback/News Tips: Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanRMiner

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