If House and Senate Republicans have largely been supine in the face of President Trump’s assaults on the truth, fiscal probity, conflicts of interest, climate change and health care, governors have not and therefore point the way toward restoration of a once admirable party.
The White House launched an aggressive drive Friday to persuade key Republican governors to stop criticizing a Senate proposal to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, urgently pressuring them in public and private ahead of a decisive week for the controversial legislation.
Despite the administration’s sales pitch, however, four influential governors reiterated their concerns about the bill’s impact on their states’ most vulnerable individuals — underscoring the challenge facing the White House and Senate Republicans as they seek to fulfill a seven-year GOP promise to undo the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Unlike GOP members of Congress, Republican governors generally don’t cower before Trump. They have their own base of political support and donor networks; they must take responsibility for delivering government services to their fellow citizens. What sort of pressure could Trump even apply? Trump has nothing, really, to threaten governors with, especially in states where the governor’s approval rating is far ahead of Trump’s.
Moreover, governors actually understand the nitty-gritty of health care and are willing to defend support for those who cannot afford insurance coverage. Good luck to the White House in trying to convince Ohio voters that Gov. John Kasich is a menace to health-care reform or Nevada voters that Gov. Brian Sandoval is a closet cheerleader for Obamacare.
The governors are not afraid to bat down non-facts (“Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling said in an interview that [Vice President] Pence’s suggestion that 60,000 disabled Ohioans remain on waiting lists ‘is not accurate,’ adding that to suggest Medicaid expansion hurt the state’s developmentally disabled ‘system is false, as it is just the opposite of what actually happened.'”)
Governors are pushing back on other issues. Even in a party with cult-like climate-change denial, there are governors who refuse to fall into the climate change denial camp. (Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott both joined the alliance of governors and local officials pledging to preserve the Paris climate agreement’s limits on greenhouse gases.) Governors also find themselves being courted by foreign leaders on trade, pushing back on Trump’s threats to pull out of trade pacts and/or apply tariffs. “Leadership at the state level has taken on an increasingly global dimension, as governors assert themselves in areas where they view Mr. Trump as abandoning the typical priorities of the federal government,” the New York Times reported. “They have forged partnerships across state and party lines to offset Trump administration policies they see as harmful to their constituencies. Unsettled by the president’s skepticism of foreign trade, governors have made newly pointed appeals to international businesses and consumers, at times gently rebuking the White House for presenting an inhospitable face to the world.”
In addition, GOP governors have been nearly unanimous in refusing to turn over at least some of the data requested by Trump’s election fraud commission. (“At least 43 states, including Texas, have pushed back against all or parts of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s sweeping and unprecedented request to hand over names, addresses, dates of birth, political party and voting histories, criminal records, military status and the last four digits of Social Security numbers of voters dating back to 2006. Texas will turn over information already publicly available but rightly refuses to release full or partial Social Security numbers.”)
Part of the reason for governors’ resistance goes to conflicts endemic in a federal system. Governors protect their turf but want money from the feds. Moreover, as those responsible for governing in diverse states rather than simply casting 1 of 100 or 1 of 435 votes with an eye toward deep-red America, governors are far more resistant to screwball ideas that please ideological extremists at the expense of their residents’ health, security, privacy and prosperity. However, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that in a party distinguished by ideological temper tantrums and fixation with non-facts, governors are the most visible grownups on the right.
Perhaps the better question is not why governors are pushing back but why House and Senate Republicans remain so deferential to the president in the face of mounting evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russia and voters’ strenuous opposition to many Trump tax-and-spend policies that they’d never tolerate from a Democratic president. Considering how little independence Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — three Republicans with presidential ambitions — have demonstrated, one suspects they will be in a poor position to pick up the pieces when the Trump presidency, one way or another, ends. For GOP resistance to Trump, for policy sophistication and for plain common sense, the GOP would do well to look to the states for sober leadership. Aside from a handful of GOP senators, they won’t find much of it inside the Beltway.