What a time to be a governor. I know it’s cynical because of the death and suffering caused by COVID-19, but we should also remember that anyone who has run for any statewide office must have more than a bit of ambition. They are seeking power to do good, but they are still all seeking power. And the pandemic, along with Trump’s anemic response, has left a power vacuum that governors are filling to help save lives (and burnish their public personas).
Andrew Cuomo from New York has set a tone with his daily briefings that are all carried by national cable news outlets. Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan has publicly clashed with Trump and boosted her profile as a result. My governor, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, has made an understated performance that largely defers to Cuomo for obvious reasons, but also has provided steady leadership to residents up and down the state.
In the South, some red state governors are trying to get in Trump’s good graces by “opening” state economies before reaching the benchmarks set forth by the Feds. Parenthetically, Trump will be the first president to run for re-election based, in part at least, on rallying OPPOSITION to his own government’s policies. The world is truly upside down.
Trump has done a pretty job setting this up so he can have it both ways, and that’s largely a result of his disdain for facts and science. Many of his supporters (including some governors) share this disdain.
Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, interests me. Ohio is the classic Midwest swing state, and DeWine appears to have not drunk the Trump Kool-Aid (like, say Brian Kemp in Georgia). DeWine is taking major heat from Republicans in his state, including many who don’t need to face the voters, like local party chairs from various counties. He has responded with an independent voice that may set him up in good standing if we can survive long enough to get to the post-Trump era. He has shown little regard for protests (some of which seem to be manufactured), and defended closing the state’s economy as essential to saving lives.
I’m not quite ready to welcome DeWine to the resistance, however, as he has just cut ¾ of a billion dollars from the state budget, including cuts to public education. Also, DeWine caved when it came to mandating that customers wear masks in re-opened retail establishments. But, thanks to the democratic process, DeWine is (for the most part) able to keep the needs of Ohio’s citizens (who presumably don’t want to die) ahead of the needs of Trump’s reelection campaign.
It will take years for us to know whether this current take on Federalism, where Washington D.C. punts during a national emergency, will prove to be the future that Republicans want. I, of course, worry that once the Federal government is gutted and rendered ineffectual (pretty much there), then state governments will be next on the chopping block. So many Republicans seem to want all the power with none of the responsibility or accountability. That is certainly the message from the most powerful people in the party.
But maybe independent voices among the Republican governors, people like DeWine and Larry Hogan from Maryland, can help save the party from COVID-19 and from itself.