ORLANDO — Republican governors, including some who feuded with Donald Trump during the bitter presidential campaign, say they are bullish on his prospects to deliver what he has promised but warn that he must maintain his discipline and move quickly.
Gathering for the first time since last week’s upset election, members of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) said that Trump’s win will be a boon for them as well.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday at the closing public session of the two-day conference. “I think there’s a road map.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recalled in an interview that, as his state’s attorney general, he had filed 31 lawsuits against the current administration over policies including President Obama’s signature health-care law, greenhouse-gas rules and the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
“The Trump administration is going in there and doing exactly what the states have been calling for,” Abbott said of the president-elect’s promises to dismantle all of those measures starting on Inauguration Day.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley once said that Trump represented “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president” and jabbed at him in her response to Obama’s State of the Union address this year as “the siren call of the angriest voices.”
But on Tuesday, she told reporters she is “just giddy” about what lies ahead in a Trump administration. “I’ve never known what it’s like to have a Republican president,” she said. “I can tell you, the last six years, Washington was the hardest part of my job.”
She and other state chief executives also noted frequently that Trump has chosen one of their own — Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — to be his vice president and run his transition. Pence spoke to the group in a private session Monday.
The governors here are well aware that the collective fate of their party at the statehouse level could hinge on whether Trump succeeds in the early years of his presidency. The GOP holds 33 governorships, its highest level since 1922, when Warren G. Harding was president.
But the map for them will be challenging in the 2018 midterm elections. Of the 36 states where governorships will be on the ballot, at least 15 will be open seats now held by Republicans. Only three of the gubernatorial offices that will be vacated because of term limits are in the hands of Democrats.
The celebratory atmosphere here at the conference, heavily attended by lobbyists and donors, was a decided contrast from the RGA’s meeting four years ago in the wake of GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s defeat.
At that meeting, Louisiana’s then-governor, Bobby Jindal — then the incoming RGA chairman and considered among his party’s brightest presidential prospects — had admonished Republicans that “we need to stop being a dumb party” and become more inclusive.
Jindal turned out to be one of 16 Republican contenders vanquished by the outsider Trump in the GOP primary. He folded his campaign even before the Iowa caucuses, saying, “This is not my time.”
Four years ago, former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour spoke to the RGA of the need to “give our political organization a very serious proctology exam.”
In an interview Wednesday, he said: “People here are upbeat. They want Trump to succeed. They want governors to be part of helping him to succeed.”
If Trump does follow through on some of his biggest promises, however, there will also be challenges for Republican governors — among other things, what to do about health coverage for the estimated 20 million people who have gained it under the Affordable Care Act. Abbott argued that the problems of the revamped health-care system, including higher premiums and fewer choices for some who purchase policies, will put pressure on Democrats in Congress to work with Republicans in fashioning something to replace it.
Obamacare “was subject to the death penalty already. The question was when it was going to die,” Abbott said. “It will atrophy and die within two years, regardless of the hissy fit the Democrats in Congress are going to throw.”
The governors here said they have been largely impressed by the discipline Trump has shown most of the time since the election and the moderate tone of his public comments. “I hope he can continue to be that same person, using that same tone,” South Carolina’s Haley said Tuesday.
But she added that Trump must also convince the country that real change is occurring on his watch.
“The key is communication, communication, communication,” she said. “Communicate what is being done. His goal should be to do something every day. Communicate every day to the American people on what you’ve changed today.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — another failed GOP primary candidate — said it would be “a good use for his Twitter feed.”
Thus far, governors said, they have not been concerned about Trump comments such as when he indicated he would “amend” Obamacare, which sounded less ambitious than his pledge to repeal and replace it.
But Florida Gov. Rick Scott cautioned that as president, Trump will have to choose his words more carefully. “If you’re going to work with your legislature, you’re going to have to be precise,” Scott said in an interview. “He will. He has to.”
Some also called for more clarity in Trump’s dealings internationally. “In the first 100 days, he’s got to give assurance to our allies and confidence in his leadership,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during a panel discussion. “He needs to provide clarity on immigration and border security. Those are expectations of the American people, and during the campaign it was opaque.”
In an interview afterward, Hutchinson said, hopefully, “I think we will be reassured in the coming weeks.”