Spiro Agnew and the Politics of Backlash

At Lunch Buffet I half-jokingly referred to Larry Hogan getting in touch with his inner Spiro Agnew in talking tough about Baltimore rioters. But I figure coming from an ancient political family like his, the precedent has almost certainly crossed his mind.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew, first elected as a pro-civil rights moderate running in a year when an vocal opponent of open housing laws captured the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, burnished his conservative credentials by his stern handling of and law-and-order rhetoric towards African-American protesters on the Eastern Shore in 1967 and in Baltimore in 1968. These incidents attracted the positive attention of Richard Nixon, who ultimately made him his 1968 running-mate. And Agnew was on his way to a national political career as a rabble-rousing right-winger who would have almost certainly become president had he not been caught accepting bribes in the White House as part of an arrangement with road contractors that went back to his tenure as Executive of Baltimore County.

Even if Hogan rejects the precedent and/or has no ambitions for higher office, I suspect a lot of Republicans around the country will be watching him closely to see if a return to good old-fashioned law-and-order rhetoric can again be a political winner for the GOP.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.