Trump’s lockdown workaround: Bring the governors to him

“I have to tell the truth,” Trump reciprocated. “He’s something.”

The visits are expected to continue, according to a White House official familiar with the plans.

Jerry Brown, who repeatedly clashed with Trump while serving as a Democratic governor of California until last year, offered withering criticism of Trump’s response to the pandemic but acknowledged the good politics in what he’s doing.

“If you can get Democrats to come and say nice things, and you can put it in your commercial it makes you look not a polarizer, but a unifier,” Brown said. “Obviously that’s Politics 101. Everyone likes to get the other side to say something nice about you. … They will become content providers for the Trump campaign.”

They already have. Trump’s campaign has launched a digital ad featuring clips from Democratic governors praising Trump and released a video featuring both governors of both parties. It is posting praise on social media, too.

George Allen, a former Republican governor of Virginia who now serves on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, said Trump and the governors may be playing politics but argued Americans want them to get along during times of crisis.

“What people don’t want to see is a bunch of sniping and petty politics going,” he said. “It’s in the interest of the morale of the people to show that unanimity of purpose.”

Trump has had to combat allegations that he initially downplayed the outbreak and failed to quickly produce and ship tests and medical supplies to states. Some of that criticism came from governors, who expressed frustration that Trump delayed deployment of the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law empowering him to order manufacturers to produce ventilators and protective gear. But other governors, including Democrats like Murphy and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, have heaped praise on the president.

Now, as scores of states move to slowly reopen shuttered parts of the economy, Trump has put the onus on governors to lead the way.

The decision has placed governors in the public crosshairs. In some places, activists are staging protests against ongoing stay-at-home orders. But other governors are battling accusations they are putting public health at risk by restarting the economy too early.

Still, if state reopenings trigger a spike in infections or even a second round of lockdowns, Trump risks getting blamed for not doing more. America has now confirmed at least 1.4 million coronavirus cases, with more than 80,000 people dying from the disease.

“Decision-makers will be praised or blamed depending on how their decisions work out — that’s just how it goes,” said Tim Pawlenty, a former Republican governor of Minnesota. “Beyond closing/opening decisions, many other decisions have also been pivotal in this crisis — so there will be no shortage of things for which decision-makers will be held accountable”

Trump, who urged states to begin reopening this month, began inviting governors at the forefront of those efforts to the White House in late April. More than 40 states have announced or begun plans to restart their economies, even though most have failed to achieve the benchmarks the White House said states should meet before relaxing social-distancing guidelines.

In his limited travel capacity, Trump is also expected to visit governors on their turf, roughly one per week. The trips are expected to highlight workers helping in the coronavirus response efforts. The president’s most made-for-TV excursion will come July 3, when he plans to visit Mount Rushmore and meet with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican.

In a statement, the White House ignored the sharp words Trump has had for various governors during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the administration has been working with governors and their teams since January on a “whole-of-government response,” including ensuring supply chains, expanding testing, crafting data-driven guidelines for social distancing and now facilitating a responsible plan to open America again.

“The ongoing response to this global pandemic has been about close coordination and partnerships with state and local governments,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “President Trump has taken an unprecedented approach to communicating and working with our nation’s governors to guarantee they have the resources they need and the ability to make the best on-the-ground decisions.”

Through Trump’s meetings with governors are ostensibly about coronavirus, they often veer into other topics. In his meeting with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, Trump congratulated him on Louisiana State University’s national football championship. The two even took the time to call the team’s coach, Ed Orgeron.

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