On a recent Thursday in the Maryland suburbs, I witnessed a scene that, in the context of American politics in 2017, can only be described as extremely strange. The occasion was a sold-out Chamber of Commerce function at La Fontaine Bleue, a dolled-up catering hall in Glen Burnie, used mostly for weddings and family celebrations. Hundreds of local business leaders crammed into the space during lunch hour, paying $650 a table to watch the state’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, step onto the stage with one of the most popular Democrats from liberal Montgomery County, state Comptroller Peter Franchot.
A Lincoln-Douglas debate this was not. The event marked the third in a series of carefully staged appearances the two men have been conducting around the state, involving a moderator, a couple of plush easy chairs and a little over an hour of brotherly, affirmational banter that felt a bit like a tag-team fireside chat. At a time when national politics is brimming with partisan vitriol — occasionally tinged with bursts of rage and even violence — here sat two of Maryland’s leading statewide vote-getters, one Democrat and one Republican, touting the idea of bipartisanship as if it were an earthshaking archaeological discovery.
“I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that, even though we don’t agree on everything, what we do agree on is not to tear each other down in public,” Franchot told the crowd.