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Coronavirus Latest: Trump's Fight With Governors Is One He Can't Win


President Trump's guidelines for "reopening" the country put the onus on governors across the nation. After the president falsely claimed he had "total" authority over the states regarding when to reopen, he is now set up, politically, to take the credit if all goes well and to blame the governors if something goes wrong.

He has vacillated between praising and criticizing governors. At times he's downplayed their sometimes-pointed appeals for more resources, dismissing Democrats, in particular, as having a political agenda and not being "appreciative." Trump, though, has praised allies, including governors who have gotten criticism from health experts for their handling of the pandemic, like Florida's Ron DeSantis.

Trump has a feisty, cat-and-mouse-like relationship with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Democrat Cuomo has gotten a lot of attention during this crisis, holding daily news conferences where sometimes he disagrees with the president. For example, after Trump said he had "total" authority to tell the states what to do, Cuomo said America never signed up to have a "king."

On Friday, Trump criticized Cuomo on Twitter, saying he "should spend more time 'doing' and less time 'complaining.' " Cuomo responded in real time: "If he is sitting home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work."

On Sunday, the script flipped, with Trump devoting part of his task force briefing to airing a video clip of Cuomo praising the federal government response.

Trump and Vice President Pence look on Sunday at the White House as a video plays of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving a press conference.
Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Trump and Vice President Pence look on Sunday at the White House as a video plays of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving a press conference.

The episodes highlight a real disadvantage Trump has not just with Cuomo, but with many of the other governors across the country: They're far more popular than he is.

Trump has seen a rally-around-the-flag bump that's smaller than other presidents have in times of national crisis. His average approval rating, according to RealClearPolitics, is just 46%, with 51% disapproving.

Compare that to Cuomo. The latest Siena College Research pollshows 87% of New Yorkers approve of the job he's doing in handling the coronavirus, despite the large number of cases New York has had. Just 41% of New Yorkers approve of Trump's handling of the pandemic.

Cuomo has made his mark with sober, blunt and personal press conferences. He doesn't sugarcoat what's coming, and he doesn't make the kind of confidently optimistic predictions Trump has become known for.

The numbers tell which strategy is working better politically.

It's a similar story in the rest of the country, FiveThirtyEight found. Governors have a 69% approval for their handling of the coronavirus, while Trump is at 44%, according to an average of the national polls FiveThirtyEight uses.

What's more, the governors who have shown the most improvement in their approval ratings from before the pandemic to after are many of the Democratic governors he's picked fights with and Republicans who have been most aggressive with stay-at-home orders. DeSantis, who was slow to close down, has seen a decline:

  • Gavin Newsom, D-Calif.: 83% (+41) 
  • Cuomo, D-N.Y.: 79% (+32)
  • Mike DeWine, R-Ohio: 80% (+31)
  • Tony Evers, D-Wis.: 72% (+24)
  • Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich.: 66% (+24)
  • Jay Inslee, D-Wash.: 67% (+23)
  • Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark.: 80% (+22)
  • Roy Cooper, D-N.C.: 63% (+16)
  • John Bel Edwards, D-La.: 68% (+14)
  • Chris Sununu, R-N.H.: 73% (+14)
  • Kevin Stitt, R-Okla.: 69% (+13)
  • Mark Gordon, R-Wyo.: 82% (+13)
  • Tom Wolf, D-Pa.: 66% (+13)
  • Charlie Baker, R-Mass.: 80% (+11)
  • TRUMP, 46% (+1)
  • DeSantis, R-Fla: 51% (-7)
  • SOURCE: FiveThirtyEight, RealClearPolitics average of the polls. For governors, FiveThirtyEight used fourth-quarter ratings from Morning Consult as a baseline. For Trump, we used Jan. 1 as his baseline.

    Weekend highlights in brief:

    Here are highlights from the news from the weekend, including the White House coronavirus task force's briefings and the Sunday shows:

  • Greatest hits: This weekend's briefings were a series of greatest hits from Trump. He complained about a broken system, touted the federal government's response ("We didn't miss a trick") and complained again about taking the coronavirus test itself — and unnamed sources in the White House who continue to talk to reporters questioning his fitness behind his back. The fact is: These were less news briefings and more self-promotion and public relations.
  • Past the apex? Cuomo said in a Sunday press conference, referring to hospitalizations, that "all indications, at this point, are that we are on a descent." But he warned not to get "cocky" or "arrogant." "Whether or not the descent continues," he said, "depends on what we do."
  • New York's testing: Cuomo said Sunday that New York State next week will begin the most aggressive antibody testing of anywhere in the country to see what percentage of New Yorkers actually have had the virus. Any decision to "un-pause" the restrictions, he said, will have to be based on that data. "I get the political pressure people are under," Cuomo said, "but we have to be smart."
  • "Absolutely false": Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who's chair of the National Governors Association, called out Trump for saying states have testing capacity that is "fully sufficient to begin reopening the country totally."
  • Hogan on CNN's State of the Union said: "I think this is probably the No. 1 problem in America and has been from the beginning of this crisis — the lack of testing. ... The administration, I think, is trying to ramp up testing. They are doing some things with respect to private labs, but to try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing, and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren't doing our jobs is just absolutely false."
  • Fight over "reopening" coming? Asked by Fox News' Chris Wallace about protesters demonstrating against Trump's own guidelines, Vice President Pence largely did not answer, but did say that "no one in America wants to reopen this country more than President Donald Trump" and that Trump is going to "find ways to encourage" governors to reopen their states again.
  • China calling: Trump swatted at China (again) during Saturday's briefing, saying he didn't believe China's death toll from the coronavirus and said it's much higher than China has led on. The Trump reelection campaign has also gone after presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on China, saying if he were president China would "own" America. But the Biden campaign put together a video of timesTrump has praised China, its leaders and their "transparency" during this pandemic.

  • Quote of the weekend:

    "In this case, I actually like the boyfriend. But even if you don't like the boyfriend, the answer can only be, 'I like the boyfriend.' "

    — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his 25-year-old daughter Mariah's boyfriend, who is now quarantined with them.

    Other headlines from NPR:

    - Mnuchin 'Hopeful' On Imminent Deal For New Coronavirus Relief Funding: Congress and the White House may be nearing a deal to replenish coronavirus stimulus funds. There could be a vote in the Senate Monday and a House vote Tuesday.

    - Shortage Of Dialysis Equipment Leads To Difficult Decisions In New York ICUs: Many hospital workers on the front lines in the metro area have been sounding the alarm that a different piece of lifesaving equipment is in short supply and high demand: dialysis machines.

    - Star-Studded 'One World' Concert To Rally Support For Health Care Workers: Aside from the entertainers and the novelty of all three major broadcast networks airing the same program at the same time, politically, notice who participated in this event to support the World Health Organization — and who didn't. Former first ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama were there; no one from the Trump White House participated.

    - Coronavirus Fears Have Produced A Lot Of New Gun Owners — And Safety Concerns

    - 'We'll Get Through This,' Pence Tells Air Force Academy Graduates

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Domenico Montanaro
    Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.