On Thursday, writing for The Washington Post, Paul Waldman wrote that President Donald Trump’s decision to throw Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) under the bus should serve as a warning to other Republican governors: Stop trying to govern the way you think Trump wants you to, and govern the way public health needs you to.
“The Georgia governor knew President Trump was in such a hurry to resume economic activity that he was promoting unhinged protests against other governors’ stay-at-home orders,” wrote Waldman. “So Kemp no doubt figured that when he announced new steps toward reopening the economy in his state, Trump would praise him as a wise and courageous exemplar of can-do American spirit. Then the opposite happened.”
“Kemp couldn’t have known that just before Trump’s briefing, the scientists on his coronavirus task force had informed him that if they were asked about Kemp’s order, they’d say it was a mistake,” wrote Waldman. “That would have been a newsworthy conflict, one Trump decided to avoid.”
As Waldman pointed out, it was a similar misfortune that befell Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who fired a Navy captain warning about coronavirus on his ship thinking Trump would want him to do so, only to resign in disgrace after Trump didn’t back his decision.
“While Trump may have temporary policy preferences, there’s one thing he will always care about more than anything else: his media image,” wrote Waldman. “That’s something that’s constantly shifting, both in reality and in Trump’s perception. Which can leave people like Kemp and Modly tripping up when they’re trying so hard to satisfy the president.”
“Trump may not be doing much to actually manage the crisis, but he is utterly consumed with how his management of the crisis is playing in the media. And when something isn’t working, he’s quick to change (and to deny he ever did or said what he did and said before),” wrote Waldman. “So while you can never go wrong by offering embarrassingly sycophantic praise of Trump’s boundless strength and glorious leadership, when you try to act on what you think he wants, if circumstances shift — especially in the media — you can find yourself hung out to dry.”
“If you’re a Republican governor, you could try to guess how Trump will feel in a day or a week or a month, and do what you think he’ll want. Or you could just do what’s in the best interest of public health,” concluded Waldman. “In a saner time and with a party less gripped by fear of its mercurial and erratic leader, it would be an easy choice.”
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