And on Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany boosted Trump’s message, kicking off a press briefing by blaming governors for all matters of “violence and chaos” around the country. “These states are responsible for policing their streets,” she said.
Trump’s strategy started during the pandemic and never stopped, migrating from one problem to the next. And now, as he restarts his campaign rallies amid the backdrop of both the pandemic and the protests, he’s poised to once again clash with governors. Protests against police brutality are likely to continue in some states, including Washington, while other states still suffering from the pandemic, such as North Carolina, may be hesitant to let Trump hold his desired megarallies.
“The president is not trying to win political support in Washington state, but he clearly thinks he can lie about events here to find victories elsewhere,” said Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who has faced Trump’s ire over both his response to the pandemic and Seattle demonstrations.
Throughout 2020, Trump has repeatedly pushed the responsibility for the pandemic and protest response largely onto the states, while simultaneously threatening to punish governors and intervene — most recently with the U.S. military — if they don’t act the way he wants. His approach gave him the latitude to blame governors when things went wrong, yet it also yielded criticism that the president was abdicating his own responsibilities.
“This is all the politics of fear,” said Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor Maryland. “And in the politics of fear, his calculus is that he must look like the strong guy.”
Governors — Democrats and even some Republicans — say Trump is pretending to be tough and shifting blame as he heads into his reelection campaign as a weakened candidate. But Trump’s aides and allies say the president is pushing governors to take aggressive steps to help solve what have become the most challenging crises of his term.
“There have been threats back and forth,” said Pat McCrory, the former Republican governor of North Carolina. “It’s typical of governors and presidents”
For a few weeks in May, it appeared the president was shifting his strategy when he began inviting governors —- who have earned higher marks than Trump in recent polls — to the White House for friendly chats as he promoted cooperation and bipartisanship. But the insults soon started again.
Still, a handful of governors have managed to stay on good terms with Trump in part by heaping praise on him. Earlier this month, Trump hosted New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, for dinner while the president spent the weekend at his luxury resort in Bedminster, N.J. And last Thursday, Govs. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, both Republicans, joined Trump at a White House event celebrating the reopening of America’s small businesses.
“If you look at what I stand for and what the president stands for there’s a significant amount of disagreement on a whole range of issues,” Murphy said during a POLITICO event. “But we have been able to find common ground consistently and we need that.”
Earlier this year, Trump faced withering criticism from state and local officials that he had downplayed the coronavirus outbreak and then failed to quickly produce and ship tests and medical supplies to states. He also drew criticism for his refusal to invoke a national shutdown, eventually issuing nonbinding social-distancing guidelines after several large states, including New York and California, had already acted.
In return, the president rebuked governors over their requests for medical supplies and tests and even accused them of hoarding ventilators. He said he told Vice President Mike Pence, the leader of the White House coronavirus task force, not to call governors if they were not “appreciative” enough of his efforts.
“He’s looking for someone to blame,” said Jack Markell, the former Democratic governor of Delaware. “It’s not a surprise. His entire approach to life is to blame other people and divide. Now his target is governors.”
As Trump pushed the country to restart the economy, he declared that he could determine when states should lift their shutdown orders. But after a backlash, Trump quickly reversed course and said governors would decide when to open.
Then, once Trump’s attention turned to the nationwide demonstrations over racial injustice, he berated governors on a conference call for not using proper force to quell looting and vandalism. “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,” he said. “You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”