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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Opinion | Dan Cox, Maryland GOP choice for governor, has little chance

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The apparent victory in Maryland’s Republican gubernatorial primary of a little-known state lawmaker who ran as Donald Trump’s acolyte is a triumph for the former president’s cult of personality and, in all likelihood, a stunning act of political self-immolation for the GOP. Del. Daniel L. Cox, the Trump-endorsed right-winger now at the top of the Republican Party ticket on November’s ballot, is, in the view of most political analysts, a dead man walking toward a landslide defeat in November.

Mr. Trump lost Maryland in 2020 by 2-1; only Vermont and (by a nose) Massachusetts repudiated him more decisively. Rationally, Maryland Republicans would embrace candidates who had kept the former president at arm’s length. Instead, they opted for Mr. Cox, a first-term delegate from Frederick whose thinly veiled appeals to QAnon cranks and conspiratorial takes on supposed electoral fraud would have made his candidacy a joke in an earlier era.

In today’s political landscape, his fringe views are not a joke; they are a menace. Last year, he arranged three buses to convey his constituents to the Jan. 6 rally that Mr. Trump had promised would be “wild” and that became, by design, a blood-spattered insurrection. At the very moment that violent rioters stormed the Capitol, beating and injuring scores of police officers, he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence was a “traitor” for refusing to reject the certification of the election. As a mouthpiece for the Trumpian lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, Mr. Cox has positioned himself squarely as an enemy of democracy.

Maryland Republicans have made their choice — for a candidate described by Mr. Trump as “100 percent MAGA.” They made it despite the availability of a stark alternative, Kelly M. Schulz, a close political ally of term-limited GOP Gov. Larry Hogan. She served in his Cabinet for nearly the entirety of his eight years in office, first as labor secretary and then, until January, as commerce secretary. In turning their backs on Ms. Schulz, primary voters spurned a pro-business pragmatist in the mold of Mr. Hogan, whose moderate Republicanism and contempt for Mr. Trump have made him one of the nation’s most popular governors. His stratospheric approval levels might easily have helped propel Ms. Schulz, whom he warmly endorsed, to the governorship. She could have been the first woman to hold the job.

By contrast, Mr. Cox moved to impeach Mr. Hogan, a governor of his own party. He got no serious support in that gesture from either party — a indication of how he is regarded by his colleagues in Annapolis.

Democrats are delighted to have Mr. Cox on the ballot, and they played a part in his win. The Democratic Governors Association spent $1.2 million on advertising and mailers designed to elevate Mr. Cox, calculating that he would be easy prey in November. That assessment is probably accurate. Nonetheless, if by some remote chance it is wrong and some unforeseeable chain of events leads to Mr. Cox moving into Government House in Annapolis, Democrats will rue their cynical action.

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