But Democrats can be useful foils for only so long—the virus is already moving beyond blue-state hot spots into the rural red states that are the pillars of Trump’s support. As more people become infected in broader swaths of the country, Trump will face a fresh wave of calls for ventilators, masks, and money. It won’t be so easy to demonize a handful of discontented governors and mayors. Complaints will be coming from friends.
Indeed, appeals from Republican governors are already starting. In a conference call with governors yesterday, Trump fielded requests for more medical equipment from leaders from both parties. Like their Democratic counterparts, Republican leaders will need to navigate Trump’s shifting moods—something they may be more suited to handle.
His proclivities have left some Democratic state officials flummoxed. They’ve been casting about for strategies to win his cooperation. De Blasio told me he looks to commend Trump when it’s deserved. “If he does something that helps my people, I will praise it and be thankful,” the mayor told me. “If he doesn’t, I’ll say it out loud and call for action.” For others, there may be no hope. Trump has called Washington Governor Jay Inslee a “snake” and said he won’t speak to him. Inslee’s team sounds utterly baffled about what to do. “We’re trying to act as if we’re interacting with a normal president, or at least a normal Republican president,” an aide in Inslee’s administration told me.
“The administration’s response in general has been an abysmal failure, and he compounds that failure by regularly attacking the governors to whom he has passed the buck,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told me. “I just don’t think we can allow ourselves to normalize a president who is politically attacking the very governors who are trying to save lives right now in the absence of real federal leadership.”
Inside the White House, there seems to be little sympathy for some of the Democratic governors who have complained the loudest. One White House aide described a pattern in which some governors privately praise the administration and then, later, publicly scorn Trump’s handling of the pandemic. “We have a really productive call with Governor X, who is incredibly complimentary, and then he goes out and does a press conference and kicks the shit out of us,” this person told me.
Read: Trump is on a collision course
“The president has been willing to talk to anyone, without regard to party, geography, or infection rates,” the presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told me. “He’s talking to anybody and everybody who wants to get a handle on our federal response effort. We’re all navigating this unprecedented, unanticipated pandemic together.”
Trump, though, is sensitive to anything he sees as ingratitude. If his administration sends planeloads of ventilators—a national resource—he wants a thank you, not a complaint about why it didn’t come sooner.