This post has been updated.
The Trump presidency is one big codependent relationship. Politicians need things from and fear President Trump, so they ignore his rough edges, his controversies, his bragging and his occasional slights. Republicans especially put up with Trump, and they've gotten tax cuts and Supreme Court justices in return.
But sometimes, this codependent relationship reaches something of a breaking point.
That seemed to be the case Tuesday for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló after Trump, in a follow-up to questions about preparedness for Hurricane Florence, lauded the response to the hurricanes that walloped Puerto Rico last year.
The governor was Trump's chief character witness in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, even as Trump feuded with San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz. Rosselló made a clear calculation that being nice to Trump was the best thing for his island, so he entertained Trump's hyperbolic bragging about the hurricane response. He did so even when Trump compared the death toll in Puerto Rico favorably to Hurricane Katrina (a comparison that has now backfired).
On Tuesday, though, Trump went too far for Rosselló.
Despite the official estimate just in the last few days raising the excess death toll near 3,000, Trump hailed the Puerto Rico response as an “incredible unsung success.” (The Post's Philip Bump runs through all the reasons this claim strains credulity.) Trump even invited reporters to verify his claims with Rosselló. “If you ask the governor, he'll tell you what a great job” the administration did, he said.
But Rosselló ... decided to go in a different direction. Here's his statement:
Rosselló, who belongs to Puerto Rico's New Progressive Party but has been a delegate at Democratic conventions, was being diplomatic, and he doesn't mention Trump specifically. But it's difficult to read this as anything but a pretty sharp rebuke of Trump from a one-time ally.
"No relationship between a colony and the federal government can ever be called ‘successful’ because Puerto Ricans lack certain inalienable rights enjoyed by our fellow Americans in the states,” Rosselló stated. “The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and unAmerican. It is certainly not a successful relationship.”
He repeatedly uses the word “success,” quoting Trump, and suggests unequal treatment because of Puerto Rico's status as a territory. He doesn't directly say Puerto Rico has gotten short shrift on hurricane response because of this, but it's certainly implied.
Later, Rosselló says: “This was the worst natural disaster in our modern history. Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle. Now is not the time to pass judgement; it is time to channel every effort to improve the lives of over 3 million Americans in Puerto Rico."
This could be read to say, “Now is not the time to pass judgement on Trump,” but the much more likely interpretation is, “Now is not the time for Trump to be claiming a major success.” Trump, after all, is the one who passed judgment — on himself — on Tuesday. He told people to ask Rosselló if it was a success; Rosselló did not provide such validation.
The language is coded enough that Trump may not take it as directed at him. It's also possible Rosselló will return to praising Trump in the future because he still needs Trump. Such is often the case with Republicans who find themselves having to rebuke Trump.
But for at least a moment on Tuesday, Rosselló decided Trump’s bragging about a huge tragedy for his island and a struggling response was just too much to countenance. And given a new Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows 80 percent of Puerto Ricans disapprove of Trump’s hurricane response, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Rosselló's calculus and rhetoric have shifted.