President Trump Must Be Reelected
[Author’s note: this entry is not actually about the title. While I certainly disagree with my colleague Brian Griffiths’ militant NeverTrumpism, the title is an experiment intended to determine who will actually read this article and not simply comment upon the title/link posted on social media. For reasons that will become obvious, if you’re reading this, you are not the problem.]
This is my last post at Red Maryland. So, at the very beginning let me apologize for the length and for a more conversational (read rambling) writing style. There are number of topics that I want to cover here so I hope you will bear with me.
The Legacy of Red Maryland
No final post would be appropriate without reflection on what has came before. As a founder and contributor to this blog from its very beginnings in 2007, I have written hundreds of articles, recorded thousands of hours of programming, and spent considerable time outside of producing content advancing the mission of Red Maryland. To sum that up in any post would be impossible. Instead, let me give you a few thoughts on what I viewed as our goals from the very beginning, what I am most proud of that we accomplished, and what I think our legacy is and ought to be.
When we started Red Maryland in 2007, the world of the Internet was, frankly, a completely different place. It was an age of blogs. A time when political commentators wrote long form essays of varying styles. It was a time when the written word and the exchange of ideas was paramount. When Streiff brought us together in the summer of 2007, we were a motley crew of political commentators from throughout Maryland. What we had in common was a conservative perspective and a desire to translate our previous political activism into full engagement in the marketplace of ideas. Maryland was entering a very dark time with the ascension of Martin O’Malley and the setbacks that Maryland Republicans suffered in the 2006 elections. The Maryland Republican Party, likewise, was in a very dark place, bereft of staff, mired in debt, and deeply divided as a rift developed between Ehrlich loyalists and other activists. Into this maelstrom, the founders and original contributors of Red Maryland sought to take up the intellectual banner of conservatism in our state. We wanted to take advantage of technology and the medium of the Internet to do what previous generations were limited in doing, namely, to directly challenge the narrative of the mainstream media and the Democratic establishment.
Personally, as a previous candidate for the House of Delegates, I knew that there were many good, conservative Republicans in our state that were ready to engage in that struggle but for whom there were no media outlets. They read the Washington Times, listened to talk radio like Rush Limbaugh, and watched Fox News, but none of these outlets gave coverage to issues on the state and local level. With the power of the Internet and the ease of publishing through blogs, we didn’t have to start a newspaper or print a broadsheet to engage that narrative and could give people an outlet with an alternative voice that was so desperately needed. I also was at the cutting edge of podcasting, taking my love for talk radio and focusing it on state and local issues. The original Conservative Refuge podcast I started in 2007 was easily 8 to 10 years ahead of its time and provided a platform for discussion of local issues, interviews with candidates, and panel discussions with local leaders, that was unavailable even on “local” conservative talk radio. With these tools, Red Maryland was set to take on the world.
Over the next 13 years we did exactly that. We broke original stories. We waded deep into every major state controversy during that time. We introduced new voices and new candidates into the body politic here in Maryland. We engaged in media in a way that no one else in the Republican establishment was doing. For many of those early years, we were the de facto messaging arm of the Republican Party in the state. As we did this, we developed a unique style that melded the personalities of our principal authors, myself, Brian Griffiths and Mark Newgent in a combination of intelligent, witty and yes even snarky political coverage and commentary. We gave that point of view that was lacking in the established media and that the state’s Republican institutions, such as they were at the time, were unable or unwilling to provide. This culminated in numerous awards, in a growing audience, and in the begrudging respect of members of the media and even our ideological opponents, who had to deal with the fact that somebody was challenging the false narrative of the O’Malley years. Those were heady days and I could not have been more proud to be a part of Red Maryland.
The culmination of years of hard work was the election of a Republican governor in 2014, something that I predicted would happen in the pages of the Baltimore Sun earlier that year. Immediately, we saw a change in our state and leadership that held the line on taxes, promoted small business and economic development, and that unceasingly challenged the Democratic monopoly on power. At our best, particularly when we were writing for the Baltimore Sun’s editorial page, we were never better. It’s a proud memory that I will never forget and it cemented Red Maryland as an institution within conservative, Republican politics in Maryland.
But which change, came challenge. Our friend Mark Newgent left Red Maryland to join the Hogan administration. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to see Mark Newgent sitting as the Governor’s senior aide on the Board of Public Works, a guy whose articles I had read for years advocating fiscal responsibility and conservative governance. Maryland’s gain, though, was Red Maryland’s loss.
But while our movement’s fortunes had been buoyed by Governor Hogan’s election, the work of Red Maryland was far from over. Over the next six years we undertook an effort, led by Brian Griffiths and myself, to evolve as a blog, to adapt to an ever-changing Internet environment and to continue to be relevant in the discussion of state and local politics. A role that increasingly changed from being the sole voice of the center-right to being a conservative voice liberated from the constrictions of governance. We often found ourselves trying to maintain, and truly referee, a balance between ideological purity and extremism on the one hand, and political practicality on the other. At times it meant carrying water for the administration of Governor Hogan, a job we were happy to do and believed in doing, and at other times it meant criticizing the Governor, with criticism by Red Maryland suddenly becoming front-page news, as it was when I criticized his removal of the Roger Brooke Taney statue in 2017.
During this time, Red Maryland became more than just a blog. It blossomed as a true podcast network, collaborating with many very talented voices and ultimately producing nearly 2000 podcasts. The Red Maryland network was born of an idea that I had and was a revival of the passion that was stirred by our early radio work on WAMD. Again, we were probably years ahead of the curve on developing a podcast network. At times the sound quality was not as good as I would have preferred but in the end we produced the best broadcasting on Maryland state and local politics that existed during that time bar none.
We also began the Red Maryland Leadership Conference. The brainchild of Brian Griffiths, this conference exceeded from the very beginning our wildest expectations. When we started, we truly didn’t know if we could sell tickets. As it turned out, we underestimated the size and passion of our audience, selling out every year and growing the event. It was, arguably, the greatest success of Red Maryland and certainly was the most tangible expression of the reach and influence Red Maryland had on the conservative movement in our state.
As we wind down active operations of Red Maryland, 13 years after those initial meetings online and in person with Streiff, Brian, Mark, and others, we have a great legacy to be proud of. We supported and fueled the conservative movement in our state. We gave a platform and support to scores of good candidates that otherwise would not of had such a such an opportunity. We helped elect good conservatives that have clearly made a difference in the direction that our state has gone. We established a brand that’s bigger than any of the contributors which included dozens of incredibly talented and dedicated people. Red Maryland became the voice of the activist community within the conservative movement in our state. During the last 13 years there was no rival to Red Maryland and, honestly, I don’t anticipate there will be one in the years to come. It’s a legacy that I’m humbled and proud to have been a part of and one that I am satisfied will now be preserved for all time.
So Why End?
If you have not read our post explaining why we were ending active operations of Red Maryland you really should. While we are proud of what Red Maryland has accomplished, the overarching goal that we had for ourselves was to permanently establish a conservative media in our state focused on state of local issues. This just turned out to be a Sisyphean task and, honestly, a reaping of the wind. It was a goal complicated immeasurably by a couple of simple facts.
For one, Brian and I have full-time jobs, families, and other commitments that take our time. Despite what a shocking number of people think, Brian and I don’t do this for a living. We don’t even do this as a part-time job. This has never been more than a passion project for either of us or for any of the people who gave their time, energy and talents writing posts, supporting events, or recording podcasts. It’s flattering that people think otherwise but it simply isn’t the case.
Secondly, the world that Red Maryland was born into simply doesn’t exist anymore. The days of the blogs being king are long over. The world now is dominated by social media. Worse, the media landscape is dominated by click-bait media preaching to the choir with every incentive rewarding “owning” the other side and completely devaluing any real engagement or attempt to persuade. As we’ve noted multiple times, this environment is antithetical to what we sought to do as Red Maryland. It’s soul sucking trying to put the mental energy into engaging in a marketplace of ideas when more and more of our readership likes the title and never reads the post. [Proven by the title of this article and the link posted on our FB page].
What’s the point of doing what we set out to do back in 2007 if people aren’t even going to invest the time to click a link and read an article?
Moreover, speaking for myself personally, political rhetoric has gotten more coarse, less intellectual, and altogether unsatisfying. While Red Maryland was set up in a way to avoid those temptations, too often I think we’ve succumbed. Too often in our social media or in the tone of our posts or even our podcasts we were too personal, too caustic and too devoid of intellectual weight.
Couple those realities with increasing tribalism and a seemingly impenetrable desire of the audience we sought to communicate with to hear and talk about only national issues and it became clear that the ever increasing commitment and investment that we’ve made in time and energy simply wasn’t worth it.
I mentioned in a previous podcast when we announced our closure that I kept going back to a particular passage of scripture as I contemplated our decision to close. That passage is Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 where Solomon, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says:
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
In order to keep doing Red Maryland we were faced with pretty simple decision. We change who we were and, given to the rotting zeitgeist of our current political environment, “follow the audience” and be just another voice among millions talking about national politics, or we continue to maintain our efforts to an ever shrinking pond of people who truly wanted to talk about state and local issues from a conservative perspective with a real intellectual rigor.
Facing those alternatives, the choice to wind down Red Maryland was an easy one for me, which doesn’t mean that it was a choice that I made without a lot of contemplation and truly prayerful consideration. But in February of this year I came to that position. I could not escape the conclusion that, regardless of how much good work Red Maryland has done over the years, keeping it going under the current environment would just be an exercise in “vanity and a striving after wind.”
When I sat down with Brian we both came to that same conclusion.
And so here we are at the end.
If you have read this far, you are not the problem. Since this is my last post on this blog let me be candid.
Being a part of Red Maryland over these years has not just taken my time or money or emotional energy. It’s done that for everybody who’s been involved with it and for some it took far more of those things than it did for me. But I would not be honest if I did not acknowledge that there’s been a personal cost to being a part of Red Maryland. Putting my name to public advocacy for conservative values and ideas, to challenge the Democratic establishment, to oppose ideas like physician-assisted suicide, to support ideas like judicial elections, or even to take on the cycling lobby is not something that has gone unnoticed by people who were in a position to frustrate any ambitions I might have professionally. By and large, this was never truly an issue as I have no desire to run for public office and I’ve never sought a government job. But, when I did put myself in consideration for one of the multiple open judgeships years ago in Anne Arundel County, I gained a fuller insight as to what my public reputation was and how much Red Maryland was a part of it. Oh, I’ve known that certain public officials who I have criticized in the distant past still hold a grudge against me to this day but going through the judicial selection process was pretty eye-opening. While I don’t regret ever being a part of Red Maryland and I certainly don’t regret speaking out for what I believe, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my passion for this project, which never made me a dime or ever put a roof over my family’s head, absolutely did have a price for me in my professional life.
Moreover, in a spirit of perfect candor, I have to say that Red Maryland publicly engaging in occasional social media-based trolling and at times puerile spats with people on all sides of the political aisle, something I never directed personally and often objected to internally, didn’t help. While Brian and I have always found a way to collaborate, this was our greatest source of tension over the years. It’s not to say that this is the reason why are ending Red Maryland. It isn’t. But it is to say that the black hole of the negative media environment seemed to be sucking our blog into it. I wasn’t willing to continue down that road and, frankly, I wasn’t willing to let Red Maryland continue under such circumstances either.
Despite what you may have read in some left-leaning journal, I don’t “plan to focus” on the practice of law full-time, I’ll be continuing the practice of law full-time as I’ve done for the last 24 years.
I will still be doing the weekly radio hit on WGMD with Mike Bradley. Mike has been a wonderful supporter and even better friend to Red Maryland over the years.
I’m sure I’ll still be giving my opinions on twitter which at least the Washington Post and New York Times appear to follow.
So, as somebody who over the years has shown some prescience and who predicted Gov. Hogan’s election in 2014, let me give you my opinions here on my final post as to what the future may hold for our party and our movement in the coming years.
Early on in this pandemic response, I was quoted as saying that for many Marylanders the cure was worse than the disease. Every day that seems to go by since I uttered those words the evidence continues to accumulate that the initial shutdown was an overreaction, an unnecessary and destructive reaction based upon bad data and even worse assumptions. The current state of things is that as we slowly, too slowly, open back up we have over half a million, and rapidly approaching three quarters of a million, Marylanders out of work. We have an economy in shambles and all of the good work that Governor Hogan has done for the previous five years in growing the economy and adding new jobs has been utterly destroyed five times over.
While I hope that our economic recovery is a rapid one, and to some extent I believe it will be, for the Governor to achieve fiscal balance without raising taxes and to end up with net job gains as his legacy will be a herculean task. A task that will be made infinitely harder by terrible policies, such as mandatory sick leave and higher minimum wages, that have been foisted upon our state’s economy over Gov. Hogan’s objections. Sadly, while we may be close to fully recovered when a new governor takes office in 2023, Hogan’s “aggressive and unprecedented actions” in responding to this pandemic will likely permanently devastate his legacy as to the growth of the private economy. Boy, do I hope I’m wrong about that.
Absent significant economic achievement, there is not much else for Gov. Hogan to build a legacy upon except redistricting reform. The unprecedented election and reelection of a Republican governor in Maryland has created a roadmap for Maryland Republicans to be competitive into the future. If a legislative redistricting map, and here I’m not talking about Congress but state legislative redistricting, that is anything better than what we currently have and that isn’t the work of Democratic operatives using the latest technology to squeeze every advantage they can is ultimately passed into law, it will contribute greatly to making the state more competitive politically. If the Hogan administration can achieve this, despite the super majorities that Democrats have in the General Assembly, it will be a worthy political achievement and will buoy the Maryland GOP in the years to come. By contrast, if the Democrats use their super majorities to impose their will and we end up with gerrymandered legislative districts that pay little more than lip service to the constitutional mandates of respecting boundary lines, Hogan critics would have a fair basis to question what good is electing a moderate Republican governor.
A failure with regard to redistricting coupled with the net negative economic record would be absolutely deflating to Maryland Republicans. A blow not easily recovered from.
Even under the rosiest of scenarios, 2022 is likely going to be a difficult year for a Republican to succeed Hogan as governor. No political party in the state has elected one of their own after having a two-term governor since 1994. And that election was exceedingly close, some would say it was stolen from Ellen Sauerbrey. The pandemic response and the deep rifts within our party, exacerbated by tribal politics and the partisan media evils I mentioned above, would be difficult for even the most astute Republican politician to overcome. Couple this with an extremely well-funded Democratic candidate like Comptroller Peter Franchot who can claim, incredible as the claim might be, some level of moderation and you have conditions upon which it would be nearly impossible for any Republican to get elected statewide.
A lot can happen between now and then, of course, and there are a lot of questions that will need to be answered. Unquestionably, right or wrong, the winds of national politics will have far too much influence on the outcome as well.
I am not someone given to pessimism but looking ahead I cannot summon anything but the most cautious of optimism for Maryland Republicans in the years ahead.
I want to end by saying thank you to our contributors to Red Maryland over the years. It was a privilege to collaborate with so many talented people, many of whom are close lifetime friends. That comraderie is what I will miss most. When you peel away all the BS involved in doing this, the relationships matter so much more.
Finally, let me thank everyone who has read a Red Maryland post or listened to a Red Maryland podcast over the last thirteen years. Thank you to everyone who came to an event or commented on social media or greeted one of us in the real world. Your support, your encouragement, your appreciation, and yes even your hate, has kept us going for all these years and reminded us that we have never been simply shouting into a void but fighting for a better home in the state we love so much.