RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam came face to face on Monday with the man he’d called a “narcissistic maniac” while running for governor last year: President Trump.
The meeting went better than you might expect.
“I think you’re going to do a great job,” Trump told the new governor, who was among eight governors and seven mayors invited to the White House to hear about Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan from the president himself. Five of the elected officials, including Northam, were Democrats.
Northam had not met Trump before but received a congratulatory phone call after his election in November. He’d been invited by the White House intergovernmental affairs office.
Trump called on Northam during the gathering in the State Dining Room, addressing him by first name and congratulating him on his victory over Republican Ed Gillespie. Trump also took a swipe at Gillespie, suggesting he would have fared better on Election Day if he’d more fully embraced the president’s politics — a sentiment Trump has previously expressed on Twitter.
“Your opponent was not a Trump person, I have to be honest with you,” Trump said to laughter. “If he was, he would have done much better. Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have won, but he would have [done] much better.”
Northam lobbed the maniac insult at Trump last year, on the stump and in a TV ad, during a hard-fought Democratic primary.
Northam never took it back, but in the general election he pledged to stand up to Trump when necessary but to work with him when that would be good for Virginia. Gillespie, an establishment figure who’d kept Trump at arm’s length while adopting some of the president’s rhetoric on illegal immigration, suggested the insult would hamper Northam’s ability to work with the White House.
There was no evidence of lingering bad feelings Monday, as Trump invited Northam to share his thoughts on infrastructure.
“I’d like to start by thanking you for what you’re doing with our military,” Northam said. “As you know, we build the finest warships and submarines right there in Newport News. And we have the largest naval base right there in Norfolk.”
Northam said rural broadband was also important to his state, and he asked the president’s help dredging the Port of Virginia.
“We are in position to be the best port, and we want to make sure that we have the depth,” Northam said. “We need to dredge our channels to 55 feet, widen our channels.”
Trump broke in to ask how many years the dredging process has been underway.
“I don’t know, Mr. President, but we’re ready to get it done,” Northam responded.
Trump seemed pleased by that response.
“I love it,” Trump replied. “Just put it on the list. Put it high on the list.”
As he exited, Trump chatted briefly with Northam, who said the president offered help with the port.
“In that regard, I thought it was productive,” Northam said.
But Northam said he has concerns about the president’s plan.
“The devil is in the details, but not a lot of details were given,” Northam said, noting that among the unknowns was how much states and localities would be required to fund.
The maniac reference went unmentioned.
“I was pleased,” Northam said, “that that wasn’t brought up.”