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‘Horrible mistake’: GOP senators urge RNC to back off Hogan

Republicans are moving to head off a long-term war between Larry Hogan and former President Donald Trump’s allies, including the RNC, as Hogan faces one of the toughest ticket-splitting efforts in modern politics.

Hogan’s request for Americans to respect the verdict of Trump’s criminal trial — before the conviction was even announced — elicited harsh criticism from RNC co-chair Lara Trump, raising the specter of a long-term rift between top rungs of the party and the GOP’s star recruit in Maryland, a state where Republicans haven’t won a Senate race since 1980.

Hogan generally makes no bones about his dim view of Trump, an absolutely necessary stance in the blue Old Line State — but one that can also draw out Trump’s defenders. And Republicans smarted at their own central party organ dissing their star recruit.

“It’s a horrible mistake. I think they should back off,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), no stranger to rifts in her own party after surviving a Trump-backed challenge two years ago.

Lara Trump said on CNN over the weekend that Hogan “doesn’t deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party at this point, and, quite frankly, anybody in America.” Trump’s campaign also pilloried Hogan for turning off Republicans.

“We’re all on the same team here. [The criticism] doesn’t help the cause,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) first joked that the whole episode is “a conspiracy designed to build [Hogan] up in Maryland. How’s that for a theory?” But he grew more serious about the viability of a long-term conflict.

“It’s completely unnecessary. I don’t know why they would feel the need to come to Donald Trump’s defense in a state he’s not going to win while we have a Senate candidate that could,” Cramer said. “It’s time to be done with it.”

Hogan, a popular two-term governor, is probably the only Republican who can truly put the state’s Senate race in play. And any public tussle with Trump will likely boost Hogan’s standing with the independent and Democratic voters he needs to win.

But crossing Trump also risks turning off the GOP base, which Hogan will need to win handily. Unlike his two midterm gubernatorial runs, however, he’ll have to share the ballot with Trump in November.

A senior campaign official with the RNC, granted anonymity to speak frankly, said “Hogan will need to bring together a diverse coalition to win Maryland but it begins with President Trump and the Republican base. Both internal and public polling show that Americans voters know the Biden trial was rigged and a sham.”

The path ahead for Hogan may be the trickiest in the country, even more so than red-state Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, whose states aren’t quite as challenging for Democrats as Maryland is for Republicans. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines’ assessment: “Larry Hogan is running for Senate in Maryland, not Mississippi.”

“We’ve got to give him some latitude and some slack to do what he needs to do to succeed there. I would hope that at every level folks let him do that,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who believes that message will be conveyed to the RNC in time.

Hogan’s path to victory means he can’t afford to lose many voters in either the pro-Trump or anti-Trump bloc — a mission similar to that of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who split tickets to an extraordinary degree in 2020 as Trump lost Maine. Maryland, though, is numerically even more challenging.

Collins said, from what she could tell, “most Republicans are rallying around” Hogan. Hogan’s campaign declined to comment.

“What we don’t want to do is have a scenario where we win the White House and then we don’t have a majority in the Senate. That would make no sense at all,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

If there’s any solace for Republicans after Lara Trump’s interview in which she declined to earmark financial support for Hogan, it’s that the Maryland Senate race is unlikely to rely much on the RNC’s money. It’s not a competitive presidential state, so the NRSC and Senate specific groups will be far bigger players than the RNC.

Asked about the imbroglio Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Whether you’re Mike Lee or Susan Collins, we need more Republicans in order to set the agenda. So I support all of the Republican candidates, and certainly Gov. Hogan would be among them.

Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.

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