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Image: Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the state's response to the coronavirus at the Governor's Office of Emergency Services in Rancho Cordova, Calif., on March 23, 2020.Rich Pedroncelli / Pool via AP

Gubernatorial praise for White House comes with a key caveat

Governors, like Zelensky, are in a vulnerable position, are heavily dependent on White House support, and have an incentive to stay in Trump's good graces.


The White House dimmed the lights during yesterday's press briefing so that Donald Trump could present a campaign-style video intended to put the president in a flattering light. It featured, among other things, some public praise from governors, including blue-state Democrats.

"He returns calls, he reaches out, he's been proactive," California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said of Trump in a clip. "His team is on it. They've been responsive -- late at night, early in the morning -- and they've thus far been doing everything that they can do, and I want to say thank you," New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in another.

It's true that Newsom and Cuomo made these comments. I rather doubt that they intended for their remarks to be used in Republican political advertising, but the quotes are real.

That said, watching the video, I found myself thinking about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

As Trump's impeachment crisis rocked the White House, one of the more common arguments from the president and his allies was that Zelensky, at least publicly, had nothing but positive things to say about his American counterpart. To hear Zelensky tell it, he didn't mind Trump's extortion scheme, and he never felt threatened.

But as regular readers know, there was a highly relevant context surrounding the Ukrainian leader's perspective: Zelensky was in a vulnerable position and was heavily dependent on support from the White House. With this in mind, the president in Kyiv had a powerful incentive to stay in Trump's good graces.

Several months later, U.S. governors find themselves over a barrel. As the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll, governors are competing for desperately needed resources and federal support, while recognizing the fact that there's a hyper-sensitive president in the Oval Office, demanding "appreciation" from state chief executives and suggesting that his sense of grievance is guiding administration decision making.

Or put another way, governors, like Zelensky, are in a vulnerable position, are heavily dependent on support from the White House, and have an incentive to stay in Trump's good graces.

It's against this backdrop that some of the nation's leading Democratic governors made complimentary comments about the president and his team. The broader context wasn't necessarily included in the new White House video, but it arguably matters quite a bit.