The venues were as different as they could be.
CNN’s morning newscast, “New Day.” Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt’s daily radio show. And “The Sports Junkies,” a raucous guy-talk show that airs each morning on 106.7 FM “The Fan” in Washington, D.C.
That’s where Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) found himself on Tuesday morning, talking about — what else? — COVID-19.
There were common threads in each appearance. But there was undeniable tailoring of message.
Everywhere Hogan spoke, he could be seen navigating a political tightrope, as he balances his evident frustration with the White House against the imperative of maintaining a positive relationship with an unpredictable president.
Talking to the CNN audience, the governor bluntly said some White House messaging on COVID-19 is “confusing — and it’s not just that it doesn’t match with what we’re doing here in Maryland. Some of the messaging coming out of the administration doesn’t match.”
Hogan scoffed at the White House suggestion that “we’re going to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock. Most people think that we’re weeks away from the peak, if not months.”
Hogan said the “advice we’re getting from the smart folks” at Maryland’s leading medical institutions buttressed his actions and messages, not the federal government’s.
When asked, “Which message do you want the people of Maryland to listen to,” Hogan declared flatly, “We want them to listen to us. … We think it’s absolutely critical that everyone be a part of this breaking the back of this virus, so we don’t infect hundreds of thousands of more people in our state.”
Moments later, addressing Hewitt’s radio audience, Hogan praised President Trump for selecting Vice President Mike Pence to lead the White House coronavirus response team. Pence has kept the nation’s governors in the loop, said Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association.
“He’s been terrific. He was really made for this, built for this. And he’s put a terrific team around himself.”
Trump’s early messaging was off-base, Hogan told Hewitt, but Hogan said it has been better in recent days. “In many ways, he’s risen to the occasion.”
Amid reporting that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, may be rankling the president with his science-backed approach to COVID-19, Hogan went out of his way to describe Fauci as a “brilliant guy” who has provided “tremendous wisdom” to the nation’s governors.
“He’s been speaking with the most clarity and the most intelligence and the most information on this entire topic for a long time.”
Hewitt asked whether Maryland leaders are preparing for “unrest,” a frequently-voiced concern on the right. Hogan said it’s a concern but “it’s not at the very top of the list.”
On the popular “Sports Junkies” show, Hogan engaged in good-natured banter with the show’s four hosts. They ribbed him for not accepting their earlier invitations — and they addressed him as “Guv.”
“It took a pandemic to get me on your show,” Hogan joked. “It’s like when hell freezes over, I’ll come on the Junkies,” he said to laughter from the hosts, who peppered Hogan with COVID-19 questions.
Hogan thanked the “vast majority of Marylanders who have really listened, they have stayed home,” but he said “some knuckleheads that are out there gathering, still doing crazy things, and that’s what we’re trying to stop.”
“This is no joke, they really are endangering themselves and their friends and their family by continuing to help spread this virus, which is killing people.”
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Hogan is wise to take the social distancing message to as wide an audience as possible.
“He’s doing what he should do… to broaden the scope of that conversation,” said Steele, Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 2003-2007. “And that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.”
Former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who served as head of the NGA in 2000, said he fully appreciates the difficulty Hogan faces balancing candor with the need to avoid complicating his relationship with a volatile president.
“It is often a balancing act, no matter what,” he said. “But in this case it is extreme.”
If Hogan runs afoul of the president, he risks being “totally discarded,” Glendening said, jeopardizing his efforts to advocate for Maryland and the governors association at a critical time, when the push for resources and medical devices is intense.
“He has to be balanced, be careful, watch his words carefully,” he added. “But at the same time, when the president is just absolutely wrong, and on the other side of all science and all knowledge, without being extreme in his vocabulary, I believe it’s incumbent upon Gov. Hogan to say that, to speak out.”
Glendening said the decision by Hogan and the nation’s other governors, Democrat and Republican alike, to collaborate, base their decisions on science, and avoid political differences represents a great service to the populace.
“It’s helping to keep the system together and it’s reassuring to many Americans.”