But Trump has also shown in the past few days he needs praise from governors to help him change the narrative about his coronavirus response.
On Sunday at the White House coronavirus task force briefing, Trump aired two different clips of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) saying earlier that day that the federal government is a big reason New York is getting better and why no one has been refused a hospital bed.
“His team is on it,” Cuomo said in that video. “They’ve been responsive, late at night, early in the morning, and they’ve thus far been doing everything that they can do, and I want to say thank you, and I want to say I appreciate it.”
“He returns calls, he reaches out, he’s been proactive,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) said in the next clip.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) was shown sharing the news that Trump called him to say he could have beds in the USNS Comfort military hospital ship.
Trump is framing himself as a guiding, helpful figure for governors. On Monday, he tweeted this about Minnesota’s Democratic governor:
There’s a world in which highlighting the nice things Democratic governors say about his response might help Trump smooth over his documented failures to address the virus in January and February.
But if coronavirus infections start a downward curve, and governors reopen their economies carefully, and the economy revs up quickly, then maybe American voters won’t differentiate between the state and federal government and who helped them get back to normal.
Government — at all levels — is waging the response to the virus. It’s government that forcibly closed down communities, that is giving most Americans stimulus checks, that is trying to acquire medical supplies, and that will decide when life can go back to normal. Government is so heavily involved that it’s stirring a debate about whether bigger government is needed longer term.
But Trump is trying to reshape the perception that the part of government he’s most responsible for, the federal one, has not provided the kind of leadership many governors want to see. When Trump told governors last month his administration would be the “backup” for states in crisis, The Washington Post reported Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) told him: “We don’t need a backup. We need a Tom Brady.”
Trump waited weeks to take their recommendations to implement the Defense Production Act and help states coordinate buying ventilators. “It’s like the wild West” trying to compete with states for supplies, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said in March. “I do not for the life of me understand the reluctance to use the federal Defense Production Act,” Cuomo said around the same time.
In April, Trump threatened to reopen the American economy before most health experts said we were ready, falsely asserting he has “absolute” power to do it. Cuomo threatened legal action if that happened.
Now that he’s backed off that, Trump is leaving crucial steps to reopening the economy — testing and contact tracing — up to the states to figure out.
“This is a federal emergency. He did a federal emergency declaration,” Cuomo said on April 10. “This was a national crisis to be dealt with nationally.”
Trump’s new strategy relies on praise from Democratic governors from April. He can’t call on governors to help him dig out of the biggest hole in his coronavirus response: His lack of action in February, when the virus was spreading in America, and the way he downplayed it until mid-March.
However many holes the strategy may have, Trump is trying to use what Democratic governors say about him to shape the narrative about his overall response.