As US coronavirus cases approached 103,000 on Saturday and the death toll neared 1,600, some Americans took to social media (or, at least to Twitter) to vent frustration around comments Donald Trump made during Friday’s daily press briefing.
If you watched that briefing, you likely know which comments are at the heart of the uproar.
“He calls all the governors”, Trump said, of Mike Pence. “I tell him, I mean, I’m a different type of person. I say Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington, you’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan”.
“You told him not to call the governor of Washington?”, an incredulous reporter asked.
“No, you know what I say? If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call”, Trump insisted. “[Mike] is a different type of person, he’ll call quietly, anyway”, the president continued, smiling as though there was something funny about the notion that the vice president is apparently being instructed not to communicate directly with states during what is quickly becoming one of the more vexing emergencies the country has ever faced.
Hours later, Trump opened his Twitter app and drove home the point. “I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic”, he said, suggesting (accidentally) that only states he “loves” will enjoy the full support of the federal government during the outbreak.
Then, the president said this: “Yet your Governor, Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude! #MAGA”
Roughly three hours before being branded “Half’ Whitmer” by the president, Gretchen tweeted the following video message which was essentially a plea for help.
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) March 27, 2020
“Right now, we all need to be focused on fighting the virus, not each other”, Whitmer said, in a separate tweet. “I’m willing to work with anyone as long as we get the personal protective equipment we need for the people of Michigan”.
Clearly, it’s not advisable to alienate voters in Michigan ahead of the general election. I’m not necessarily saying that’s what Trump is doing, but using highly abrasive language in public to refer to local officials in a battleground state at a time when nerves are frayed isn’t generally a good idea from a political strategy perspective, if for no other reason than that it isn’t necessary. He could have, for example, saved that criticism for a private phone call – or maybe not, since, by his own account, he’s not calling certain governors.
For what it’s worth, the most recent polling shows Joe Biden with an advantage in the state, although you should always take these figures with a grain of salt.
On Thursday, during an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump seemingly forgot Whitmer’s name (assuming he knew it in the first place). “[She’s] not stepping up. I don’t know if she knows what’s going on”, he charged. “But all she does is sit there and blame the federal government”.
In response to Trump’s comments to Hannity, Whitmer identified herself on Twitter, where her verified account has over 175,000 followers. “Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me”, she remarked, using a hand-waving emoji for effect. “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help”.
“I want [states] to be appreciative”, Trump insisted, during the same Friday press briefing. “I don’t want them to say things that aren’t true”.
In the same Thursday tweet, Whitmer had a simple message: “No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it”.