President Donald Trump’s grievances against Democratic governors in swing states have run deep throughout the pandemic, even as he greatly exaggerates their coronavirus restrictions at this stage of the health crisis and spreads a baseless conspiracy theory that restrictions are being used to hurt his own re-election effort.
But the president took it to another level Monday during a rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as he attacked the state’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for what Trump viewed as making “it almost impossible for us to find any site,” for his large outdoor rallies that have alarmed public-health experts and elected officials.
That perceived slight was enough for Trump to float the possibility of not coming to the governor’s aid as the deadly pandemic continues to plague the state.
“So Tom Wolf, next time give us a little notice, governor,” Trump said. “And I’ll remember it Tom. I’m going to remember it, Tom. ‘Hello, Mr. President, this is Gov. Wolf. I need help, I need help.’ You know what, these people are bad. We go out of our way, regardless Republican, Democrat, when they have a problem. But he shut us out and he tried shutting us out of two other venues.”
The escalation form Trump sparked a quirk response on Twitter from the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, who said “this type of dangerous, untrue rhetoric must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.”
But like some of the other Democratic governors in swing states Trump has vocally attacked, polling recently showed Wolf in a better position than Trump in the state in terms of job-approval polling.
Fox News polling for Pennsylvania released last week showed Wolf with a 58 percent job-approval figure and 38 percent disapproving, while Trump’s approval in the state was at 48 percent and his disapproval mark was 52 percent.
And Monday was far from the first time Trump has visited a swing state and attacked a Democratic governor whose standing is better than his in the final days of the 2020 campaign.
It didn’t seem to matter much if Trump was in Michigan or somewhere else, the attacks on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kept coming from the president.
Trump spent time complaining about the Democratic governor during a rally earlier this month in Georgia after law enforcement officials took down an alleged violent kidnapping plot against her earlier this month.
The next day, he picked up where he left off and then some while campaigning in Michigan. After calling on Whitmer to open up the state, chants of “lock her up,” could be heard in the crowd, with Trump responding, “Lock ’em all up.” Later at the same Saturday rally, Trump said, “I guess they said she was threatened,” about the plot against Whitmer.
And while he continued criticizing her over the intervening days, it may have an impact back in the key swing state Whitmer calls home as the 2020 election comes closer to the finish line. A Fox News poll released Wednesday showed Whitmer with a 61 percent job approval mark and 36 percent disapproving, while Trump on the other hand saw 44 percent approve of the job he was doing and 55 percent disapproving in Michigan.
“Trump has become Biden’s best surrogate in Michigan,” said Jeff Timmer, a Trump critic and former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who supports Biden and also serves as senior adviser with the Lincoln Project. He noted that the president’s actions last weekend at the Michigan rally focused on Whitmer defies logic.
“His comments (that) weekend just, I think, have sealed his fate,” Timmer said. “He’s turned this into a battle of him versus Gretchen Whitmer, and she’s clearly in position to win that battle.”
Trump’s case against the Democratic governors has been that they should open their states up, a rhetorical flourish he uses regardless of what the reality is in the state at the moment, whether it be policy-wise, legally, or from a public health perspective. And while Whitmer has been the most stinging example of Trump’s recent attacks on Democratic governors in major swing states, she’s not alone, as polling and data shows the president faring worse when it comes to job approval than the governors of other states he’s criticized as of late in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
And as he relies on his tried and true playbook of attacking Democratic governors over their coronavirus approaches, Trump’s own often criticized handling of the pandemic is doing him no favors, especially as he maintains falsely that the country is rounding the corner on the virus.
The swing state Democratic governors he’s attacked in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin had higher approval numbers than the president in their own states for their respective handling of the pandemic, according to survey data released in September by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States.
The Trump campaign further criticized Democrats in a statement Thursday, where a spokesperson again maintained the unfounded allegation that restrictions are being used as a political tool against the president.
“After months of Democrat governors refusing to remove burdensome restrictions hurting our economy and killing jobs, Americans are feeling understandably frustrated, and they shouldn’t have to lose their jobs or businesses over these Democrat legislators’ feeble attempts to hurt the President’s chances of re-election,” Courtney Parella, the deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in an email.
During Thursday night’s debate, Trump continued to lash out at Democratic governors, including the leaders of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan once again.
Whitmer, whose coronavirus approach was sent into turmoil earlier this month after a state Supreme Court ruling, pushed back on Trump during an appearance on Meet the Press that came less than a day after the “lock her up” rally chant from the crowd.
“It’s incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial, and execute me, 10 days after that was uncovered, the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” Whitmer said. “It is wrong.”
Trump again criticized Whitmer during his recent 60 Minutes interview, but grew vocally irritated when confronted about whether he wanted to lock up the governor as the crowd had been chanting at the Saturday rally.
“Of course I don’t want to lock her up. Why would I lock her up?” Trump said.
While Michigan House majority floor leader Triston Cole was highly critical of the “lock her up” chants, which he made clear he didn’t condone, he said he believes the president’s performance on Saturday plays well with a GOP base in the state that is angry with Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic, as Republicans have complained that she wasn’t working with the state legislature.
“I think it energizes his base to make sure they vote,” he said of his actions toward Whitmer.
The Republican leader, who is not running for re-election this fall because of term limits and is supporting the president, did concede, however, that he would love to see the president tout more of his own successes and what it means for states like Michigan. But he admits that’s not the president’s style.
“That’s not as sexy with the base, this hardcore base, than attacking the governor,” Cole said.
Over in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers has had to face GOP resistance over his moves including a statewide mask order. But a Marquette Law School poll from earlier this month showed Evers with a 52 percent job approval rating in the state and 42 percent disapproval, while Trump was at 44 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval.
That didn’t stop Trump from going after the governor during his rally in Janesville earlier this month, saying, “I wish you’d have a Republican governor because frankly you gotta open your state up.”
The president appeared unaware that the state was, in fact, quite open after a judge had temporarily frozen statewide occupancy limits on bars and restaurants the governor had put in place to try and beat back the virus, and that a GOP led court challenge had largely thrown the state open months before. The following Monday, a judge allowed the capacity restrictions to resume, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state’s coronavirus situation has also seen new daily case highs as of late as officials have sounded alarm bells over the state’s public health fight against the virus.
That approach in Janesville by the president was mocked by Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin. “It shows the disconnect that he has from reality,” Zepecki said, as he pointed to GOP efforts that have curtailed Evers’ attempts to fight back against the virus.
“He’s out here saying, ‘The governor’s got everything locked down.’ No, he doesn’t, because Republicans wouldn’t allow it, and we’re not turning the corner. It’s getting worse here,” Zepecki said. “So it’s not just not the right approach because Evers is more popular than him. It’s also not the right approach because he manages to be wrong twice... I’m reluctant to ascribe strategy to this approach from him.”
Evers’ position was tighter in the Fox News poll released Wednesday, which found Evers with a 49 percent job approval rating while 46 percent disapproved. But Trump’s job approval mark in the state fell below his disapproval figure, with 47 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.
And in North Carolina last Wednesday night, Trump doubled down once again on a baseless conspiracy that the state’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will lift coronavirus restrictions the day after the election because they’re being used to hurt the president.
A poll released last week by East Carolina University showed that Cooper’s job approval rating in the state was at 53 percent, with a 38 disapproval, while the president found himself with 48 percent approving of the job he’s doing, while just under 50 percent disapproved.
Mark Brody, a North Carolina state representative and former national GOP committeeman for the state, disagreed with the polling showing Cooper’s better standing compared to Trump in the state.
“The president is absolutely right in going after Cooper, of course,” Brody said.
Before Trump spoke Wednesday, a strategist for Cooper made clear his belief that Trump is in trouble given his repeated visits to the state and that the president’s handling of the coronavirus serves as a stark comparison that benefits Cooper and his more aggressive approach as he runs for re-election against Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a major Trump acolyte.
“Trump’s bombasting and anecdotes and sort of same old tired attacks that he brings every time he comes to North Carolina are not only not working against the governor, but they’re not helping his campaign,” said Morgan Jackson, a Democratic strategist for Cooper. “He is literally only talking to base Republicans.”