Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
Opinion writer

President Trump and Republican advocates of one or another version of Trumpcare — all of which contemplate huge cuts to Medicaid — had better not mess with GOP governors, many of whom have been outspoken opponents of cuts to Medicaid. Unlike Trump, whose approval rating is at a historic low, or GOP lawmakers, whose performance draws scorn from a large majority of Americans, GOP governors are among the most popular officials in the country, with approval ratings D.C. politicians can only dream about. (In late June, the Quinnipiac University poll found 70 percent of voters disapproved of Republicans’ performance in Congress; only 25 percent approved.)

The latest Morning Consult poll shows several GOP governors with astronomically high approval ratings:

[Massachusetts Gov. Charlie] Baker and [Maryland Gov. Larry] Hogan, two canny dealmakers who have largely eschewed the national political scene and have been unsupportive of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace significant parts of Obamacare, continue to enjoy the support of a large share of voters in traditionally Democratic states ahead of their 2018 re-election bids. Seventy-one percent of Massachusetts voters said they approve of Baker while 68 percent of Marylanders back Hogan.

Brian Sandoval of Nevada, another Republican governor in a bluish state who has opposed efforts by Republicans in Washington to overhaul health care, also retains his place as one of the most popular governors in the country. Sixty-two percent of Nevadans back the two-term governor who is preparing to leave office next year.

Other Republicans in purple or blue states including Ohio Gov. John Kasich (57 percent approval to 30 percent disapproval) and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (62 percent approval to 23 percent disapproval) also post impressive numbers.

It’s one thing for a rock-ribbed conservative to get strong approval ratings in a deep red state, but what’s more interesting — and more critical for the GOP’s future — is how Republicans fare in states with diverse populations and a history of voting Democratic. Scott, Hogan and Baker share a basic formula: “With Republicans controlling 33 of 50 governorships, the three state leaders stand out for their pragmatic, relatively nonpartisan approaches to governing alongside legislatures dominated by Democrats. And, crucially, each has kept their distance from Trump, a reviled figure among large swaths of their constituents.” These governors’ attention to voters as opposed to national ideologues and willingness to work with Democratic legislatures account for much of their success:

“It may seem odd that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is so popular in Massachusetts, one of the country’s bluest states,” said Boston College Law Professor Richard Albert, via email. “But there is no secret to his success: He has run the commonwealth successfully as a nonpartisan manager.”

“He has left few traces of an ideologue — something that would not fly for any Republican in this state — and has instead rolled up his sleeves to fix the problems of everyday people,” Albert added. …

“Gov. Phil Scott campaigned in 2016 on a ‘take it slow, low tax’ platform and that’s how he’s governed,” Johnson said by email. “In his first legislative session as governor, he successfully came across as an advocate for taxpayers’ interests by making proposals that spoke to people’s pocketbooks – particularly on school budget issues. These initiatives did not always succeed in the form Scott proposed them – and they were occasionally abrupt and ill-timed. But he put the Democratic majorities in the legislature, themselves under new leadership, on their back foot for the latter part of the session.”

In Ohio, Kasich has been among the most vocal Republican critics of Trump, defending Medicaid expansion, criticizing his unpresidential tone and lambasting his travel ban. Moreover, he has governed in an inclusive manner, as a fiscal conservative and pro-business advocate who nevertheless takes seriously government’s responsibility to vulnerable Americans. He has refused to drink the Trump Kool-Aid on huge tax cuts for the rich. In April at Harvard Kennedy School, he sounded like a grown-up:

Describing the tax plan unveiled by the Trump administration earlier in the day as a “not properly balanced package,” Kasich said, “There’s no way you can cut all these taxes and then say, ‘OK, everything will be paid for.’ That’s like Christmas.” Kasich said he thought the journey to restructure the tax system would be a long one. “There will be people who express concern about the debt,” said Kasich, who chaired the House Budget Committee while in Congress. “We do need a lower corporate tax rate,” he added.

One of the country’s most immediate concerns involves the state of the education system, which Kasich says is failing to provide many Americans with the skills, resilience, and creativity to meet the economy’s future employment needs.

“You can’t take a coal miner and just say ‘Tough,’ or say, ‘By the way, I’m going to make America great, and we’re going to open all the mines [again],’ ” Kasich argued. Instead, he suggested, the country needs to offer new modes of education, including competency-based learning and new forms of online training. “This whole education system needs to change, or I will personally be part of intermediating it, because it’s not working,” he said.

Are these governors — rhetorically retrained, fiscally responsible, attentive to the safety net and willing to work across the aisle — the future of the Republican Party or the core of a center-right political movement that no longer finds a home in the national GOP? For now, they remain a reminder that the GOP historically was not and need not be an anti-intellectual, anti-factual, xenophobic cult. Unfortunately, it’s Trump’s party now, and the future of responsible center-right governance at the national level is bleak.