While Whitmer was waiting for Washington to approve disaster aid for Michigan, the president attacked her during a call-in interview Thursday on Sean Hannity’s show. His complaint: She was insufficiently obsequious at what is a life-or-death moment for her constituents. Servility is a condition of employment at the White House, of course. But there is something in particular about a woman who refuses to pay him homage that seems to drive Trump around the bend. (See: Pelosi, Nancy.)
Michigan has been one of the hardest-hit states by the pandemic, and its governor has not been shy in calling out the federal government for sending woefully inadequate protective gear for its medical personnel on the front lines.
As my colleague Greg Sargent noted, Whitmer pointed out that one recent delivery of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves from the national strategic stockpile to a hospital in southeast Michigan was, with the exception of the gloves, barely enough to cover the needs of a single workshift at the hospital.
Trump does not like having the federal government’s failures put under that kind of spotlight. “She is a new governor, and it’s not been pleasant,” Trump told Hannity. “We’ve had a big problem with the young — a woman governor. You know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. We don’t like to see the complaints.”
Whitmer fired back on the president’s favorite medium. “Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me,” she tweeted. “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”
She added in a subsequent tweet that she is “happy to work with the VP! We get along well.” All of which infuriated Trump even more. “Don’t call the woman in Michigan,” he instructed his vice president during his news conference on Friday, adding: “I want them to be appreciative.” But by Saturday morning, he had approved Michigan’s disaster declaration.
There are some other things that Trump might want to learn about Whitmer, besides her name. One is that the former Michigan Senate minority leader was elected in 2018 on the basis of her common sense and pragmatism.
She ran a disciplined and focused campaign, rejecting, for instance, the Medicare-for-all proposals touted by her more liberal opponents. Whitmer rarely mentioned Trump. Her campaign slogan was: “Fix the damn roads.”
What Trump surely does know is that when he won Michigan in 2016, it was by the closest margin of any state in the country. If he cannot keep its 16 electoral votes in his column come November, his road to reelection will grow steeper.
All of which brings us back to why Biden should put Whitmer on his ticket.
There has been some talk that he should abandon his pledge to select a woman as his running mate, and tap New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been earning high praise for his handling of the crisis. But Cuomo has insisted he doesn’t want the nod. By selecting Whitmer — whose endorsement no doubt boosted the former vice president in his staggering victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the March 10 Michigan primary — Biden could get both a woman and a competent governor.
As Biden himself pointed out: "Donald Trump could learn a thing or two from Governor Whitmer — speed matters, details matter, and people matter. She’s secured more than 10 million N95 masks, more than 4 million gloves, thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer, and critical equipment for health care providers.”
Something else: After all this is over, voters will remember who put their needs front and center when they were in the fight of their lives. And Trump might, finally, be able to remember “that governor’s” name.