Letters From an American

Election 2024: Pompeo Pulls Right, Maryland Gov. Hogan Pulls Left

And both claim ownership of American "values"

Election 2024: Pompeo Pulls Right, Maryland Gov. Hogan Pulls Left

Today two leading Republican politicians attempted to stake out turf for the 2024 (that’s not a typo) presidential race, as Trump tried to strengthen his hand for the 2020 election.

This morning, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who has won high marks for his response to the coronavirus crisis in his state, published an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Still Standing. The excerpt tells the story of how Hogan’s Korean-born wife, Yumi Hogan, made the connections to get 500,000 coronavirus testing kits from South Korea when Trump—whom he eviscerates– refused to help. (The excerpt does not mention that the kits themselves did not have swabs or reagents, and thus could not be used immediately, prompting critics to accuse Hogan of wasting the $9 million cost of the kits for a publicity stunt. The kits are now functional, and Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips said they would be put to use in the fall.)

Hogan is clearly trying to emerge from this crisis as the voice of the anti-Trump Republicans. The description of the book explains what readers will find inside: “In his own words and unique, plain-spoken style, Larry Hogan tells the feel-good story of a fresh American leader being touted as the ‘anti-Trump Republican.’ A lifelong uniter at a time of sharp divisions. A politician with practical solutions that take the best from all sides. An open-hearted man who has learned important lessons from his own struggles in life.”

Even before the 2020 election, Hogan is staking out turf for the election after that. The description says: “Still Standing reveals how an unlikely governor is sparking a whole new kind of politics—and introduces the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.”

Hogan is not the only one eying the future. Today Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote a Washington Post op-ed and gave a fiery speech in Philadelphia to launch the draft report of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, a committee he organized a year ago to reexamine “the nation’s founding principles.” To chair the committee, he tapped conservative legal scholar Mary Ann Glendon, who is staunchly and vocally opposed to abortion.

The commission’s report looks laughably like a campaign document, and, of course, Pompeo has been in hot water for throwing official dinners clearly designed to build his own political base. In the report’s 60 pages are large images of America’s most famous leaders—the Framers, Abraham Lincoln, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan—and at pride of place, on its second page, is a big color photo of Pompeo himself. Trump is nowhere to be seen.

The report lays out a version of American history and human rights designed to appeal to the evangelicals who count Pompeo as their own. It begins by stating that the primary tradition “that formed the American spirit” was “Protestant Christianity… infused with the beautiful Biblical teachings that every human being is imbued with dignity and bears responsibilities toward fellow human beings, because each is made in the image of God.”

Then, as it begins a strange meander through its version of American history, it seems to urge hard-core Republicans to rebel against a government that they perceive as infringing on their religious rights as Christians and on their property rights by regulating business and levying taxes. The commission’s report highlights the statement in the Declaration of Independence that if “any Form of Government becomes destructive of” unalienable rights, the people have the right “to alter or abolish” their government and to build a new one.

The report hits again and again on the words “unalienable rights,” which refers to rights that cannot be “alienated” from someone, that is, they cannot be given away or taken away. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders identified the key unalienable rights of individuals as the right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Although it claims to speak “from the founders’ point of view,” Pompeo’s commission disagrees. “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure,” it writes, “are property rights and religious liberty. A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.”

The commission goes on to limit support for human rights to those issues that are covered in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are “widely recognized and accepted by the American people, through their democratically elected political representatives,” and are accepted by most peoples around the world as legitimate. This leaves out LGBTQ individuals, of course, as well as many women and girls. It also puts the definition of human rights in the hands of whichever party controls Congress, indicating that Pompeo expects Republicans to do so for a long time.

Pompeo’s op-ed was more extreme, even, than the report. In the Washington Post, Pompeo insisted “never before have America’s founding principles been under such relentless assault,” and he singled out the New York Times and its 1619 project–which highlighted the role of human enslavement in the founding of America— as well as the removal of Confederate statues, as an example of “outrageous efforts to erase American history.”

His Philadelphia speech went even further. “Today, the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack,” he said. “Instead of seeking to improve America, leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles.” He continued: “They want you to believe the Marxist ideology that America is only the oppressors and the oppressed…. The Chinese Communist Party must be gleeful when they see the New York Times spout their ideology.”

It seems Hogan is bargaining that Republicans will reject Trumpism and move left; Pompeo is bargaining that he can pull the party even further rightward to a theocracy. That the two men felt comfortable tipping their hands less than four months before the next election suggests they have decided that Trump is no longer a real threat to their future.

For his part, Trump is doubling down on the idea that “LAW & ORDER” as he tweets it, will win him reelection, or, more ominously, fire up his base enough that they will contest a Democratic win long enough to throw it into the Supreme Court, or even the House of Representatives, where he might be able to pull off a win.

Under Trump’s executive order to protect monuments and federal property, in early July, the administration sent Homeland Security officers to Portland, Oregon, ostensibly to protect federal property after protesters defaced the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse with graffiti, shattered a glass door, and threw fireworks inside.

The people who broke the door and threw the fireworks were arrested immediately, but Trump maintains that Oregon’s Democratic leaders are unwilling to stop the protests, which were sparked by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. The Fox News Channel has repeatedly claimed that the protesters have done $23 million in property damage, and that claim has gotten national attention, although in fact independent analysts attribute that number almost entirely to lost sales from Pioneer Place mall due to coronavirus.

Last weekend, federal officers in Portland shot a “less-than-lethal” munition at a protester standing peacefully across the street from them, fracturing his skull and face. The outcry over that attack has not stopped the police violence. For at least two days, federal law enforcement officials without identification have been cruising downtown Portland, Oregon and detaining protesters.

Today, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf went to Portland to see the courthouse. He claimed in a letter that “Portland has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city.” But Portland leaders say they did not ask for federal troops, and do not want them.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) accused Trump of trying to drum up a confrontation to win voters. “This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety,” she said in a statement. “The President is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government.”

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.