Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has made a name for himself as a pandemic-fighting, Trump-criticizing Republican who, through an aptitude for working across the aisle, managed to find popularity in one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country. By prioritizing a pragmatic leadership style over flashy policy on controversial issues, it’s clear that Hogan draws much inspiration from iconic conservative figures such as Ronald Reagan — so much, in fact, that he voted for Reagan in the 2020 presidential election.
Yes, Hogan actually wrote in the name of the late 40th president on his ballot, expressing his distaste for both President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. At its core, Hogan’s attempt to “make a statement” is both a waste of a vote and a cheap ploy to expand his political appeal. But it also raises the larger question: Why are moderate Republicans so obsessed with Reagan?
First, I believe it’s easy to romanticize Reagan’s legacy the more time goes on. Reaganomics left a legacy as the economic model that provided huge tax cuts and reduced the inflation rate, not as the model that blew up the deficit and widened the income gap. The expansion of the “war on drugs” was seen as a way to protect the country from the dangers of illegal drug trafficking, not as a way to jumpstart the prison-industrial complex and systematically target Black Americans for mass incarceration.
So, Reagan is often remembered for his policies in favor of smaller government and supply-side economics, while subjects such as the Iran-Contra affair and the AIDS crisis get buried. With time, Reagan has been reduced to a figure of robust and charismatic leadership who served the people — exactly the sort of reliable, pro-American image that helped lead to his popularity.
Through this rose-colored version of his legacy, Reagan represents a return to conservative ideological purity, especially in the wake of the Trump administration. The GOP seems to drift farther to the right every day, in a rejection of Reagan-era conservatism and, frankly, basic logic and empathy.
America’s increasingly partisan landscape can make conservatives feel more ostracized for holding their views today. Worshiping Reagan is one way for moderates to retain some semblance of traditional conservatism in 2020. It’s easier to justify the Christian, pro-America conservative ideology using Reagan’s logic than Trump’s logic. While Reagan at least framed his beliefs under the guise of protecting the country from crime and communism, Trump makes no attempts to mask the outright bigotry that his so-called leadership is built upon.
I suppose this explains why Hogan’s devotion to Reagan is so much stronger than his motivation to cast a legitimate vote. Hogan doesn’t just worship him like other moderate Republicans do — he has shaped his political identity after him. Reagan’s affable personality contributed to his relatively bipartisan appeal and landslide victory in the 1984 presidential election. Similarly, Hogan is known for his pragmatism and willingness to compromise, both of which have contributed to his high popularity in such a blue state.
This comparison becomes important when we consider Hogan’s potential 2024 presidential bid. It’s evident that Hogan has deliberately aligned himself with Reagan to broaden his appeal, especially to traditional conservatives. He’s capitalizing on Americans’ disdain for our typical presidential candidates in order to frame himself as a safe, sensible alternative.
Whatever Hogan’s true intentions, voting for Reagan ultimately comes off as a ploy to appease people in his political network, though whether it actually worked is a whole other question. Many Democrats, and even some Republicans, have criticized the move, calling it childish and cowardly.
And I wholeheartedly agree with that analysis. If Hogan really wanted to stick to his criticisms of Trump, then he obviously should have voted for Biden. By disposing of his vote instead, he’s only sending the message to his constituents that their votes don’t matter either.
This election is more important than one person’s desire to garner political sympathy. Hogan described his voting for Reagan as a symbolic move to show “the kind of person I’d like to see in office.” If the move is symbolic of anything, it’s apathy toward an election with extremely dire consequences for this country. Unfortunately, we don’t all have the privilege of wasting a vote on a long-dead, over-glorified president.
Allison Cochrane is a senior biology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.