The president’s advisors are trying to contain a politically risky election year fight with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as he struggles to balance presidential policy with a global pandemic in one of the nation’s most important states.
Both sides tried to downgrade the feud this week, although Trump supporters in particular tried to minimize the tensions that persisted over the weekend when the Republican president launched a social media broadcaster against Whitmer, a Democrat who criticized the federal government response to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Trump also clashed with other Democratic governors, but saved his most aggressive insults for the first-term governor who is considered one of the main vice-presidential prospects for his opponent.
“Everyone should abandon participation and get together,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in an interview when asked about Trump’s attacks, suggesting that some of her criticisms had been poorly characterized.
“I’m cheering on Governor Whitmer,” said McDaniel, who lives in Michigan. “I think he did good things … I just didn’t like him trying to put all the problems on the president’s feet.”
Backpingaling underscores the nature of the dispute, which comes seven months before election day in a state that could make or break Trump’s reelection offer. Michigan is an elite presidential battlefield that has historically celebrated bipartisanship and pragmatism while rewarding candidates who gather behind key institutions in crisis. Four years ago, Trump got a victory of around 11,000 votes out of over 4.5 million cast in the state.
Mitt Romney, 2012 Republican presidential candidate and McDaniel’s uncle, lost his home state in Michigan in 2012 after opposing federal efforts to save the auto industry. And Trump, sparking a personal attack on the governor of the state in the midst of a pandemic, has sparked new fears that he too may injure himself and his party on the eve of the next election.
Michigan Republican MP Paul Mitchell said he raised concerns about Trump’s political attack directly on the administration.
“I reported to the administration that I didn’t think it was useful and why playing that game,” Mitchell said in an interview. “These are times when the American people look for leaders. Leaders don’t complain. Leaders don’t blame.”
He said he raised similar concerns with Whitmer’s office, suggesting that his criticisms of the federal response were not necessarily accurate. “This is not the time when we need more drama in this country,” said Mitchell.
While political fights are common to Trump, Whitmer’s rise in democratic politics has been defined by his decision usually not to attack the president.
Whitmer, a 48-year-old legislator and longtime state attorney, ran for governor as a pragmatic liberal, emphasizing his bipartisan work by pledging to mend Michigan’s dilapidated streets. He rarely talked about Trump before or after the election.
But as a frequent guest of the national media in recent weeks, Whitmer has criticized the federal response as he asked for fans, personal protective equipment and test kits since Michigan has emerged as one of the hardest hit states. Republicans were particularly upset after insinuating during a Friday radio interview that the Trump administration was intentionally holding back medical supplies from Michigan.
In a storm of tweets over the weekend as the coronavirus death toll rose, Trump called her “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer”, accusing her of being “well over her head” and “having no idea” on how to handle the crisis health. Two days earlier, Trump had publicly stated that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, the leader of the response to the White House pandemic, not to call “the Michigan woman”.
Here is the profile of Clark Mindock of Governor Whitmer, who dates back to his release of the democratic refutation at Trump’s state of the Union address in February.