Juan Williams: Governors lead as Trump flounders

“Yeah, that’s just not true…”

That was Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, defying President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE’s claim that there is no shortage of tests for the coronavirus.

Earlier, another GOP governor, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, gave a similarly pointed response to another presidential edict on coronavirus: “No."


Baker went negative on Trump’s call to end social distancing and pack churches by Easter Sunday.

And of course, Ohio’s Republican governor led the way in breaking with Trump’s decision to downplay the virus.

“This is life and death,” Gov. Mike DeWine told The Washington Post, by way of explaining his decision to cancel sports events and close schools in the absence of direction from Trump.

DeWine clearly saw the threat posed by the virus differently than Trump, who famously promised that “like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Those three GOP governors put a premium on effectively protecting their states’ residents from widespread infection and death.

Their pragmatism led them to defy the indifference to the virus coming from Trump and echoed by right-wing websites and radio hosts.

But several other Republican governors chose to go along with Trump out of fear of being sent into political purgatory if they got out of step with the president.

By the end of last week, the 13 states without stay-at-home rules were all states led by Republicans —  and states carried by Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Group of Florida mayors calls on DeSantis to issue mask mandate DeSantis promises to keep Florida open despite recent coronavirus case surge MORE, the Republican governor of Florida, issued his ‘stay-at-home’ order late last week; that came only after he allowed beaches and amusement parks to remain open in March, leading to a rapid increase in the spread of the virus in his state.

The slow response from DeSantis and several other Republican governors is understandable in political terms. Every politician on the right got chills watching Trump lashing out at Democratic governors who have been critical of his lack of early response to the virus.

Trump admitted at a press briefing that he advised Vice President Pence, the head of the White House task force dealing with the outbreak, not to call Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeWashington county warns of at least 17 positive tests after 300-person wedding The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by UAE - US records 1 million COVID-19 cases in a week; governors crack down Washington state issues sweeping restrictions to combat coronavirus surge MORE (D) of Washington — whom Trump has called a “snake” for criticizing him.

And Trump told the vice president not to speak with the Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer: “Don’t call the woman in Michigan.”

In true Trump bully-style politics, he has also tried to coin a nickname for Whitmer suggesting she lacks full mental capacity.

When Democratic governors complained about a lack of federal coordination in helping with supplies of ventilators, masks and medical gloves, Trump attacked them.

“For years they bought them and now they’re coming to the federal government,” Trump argued, seeking to distract from his administration’s failure to ramp up production of medical supplies in February or early March.

In the case of New York, Trump even suggested to Democratic Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCardinal Dolan hails Supreme Court decision on churches, COVID-19 Cuomo blames new conservative majority for High Court's COVID-19 decision Vaccine skepticism emerges as early test for Biden MORE that the real problem was theft.

“Where are the masks going?” Trump asked at a news conference. “Are they going out the back door,” he said in response to Cuomo’s request for more masks.

But when Florida’s DeSantis finally got serious about battling the virus, the White House opened its cabinet of medical supplies.

“As states across the country have pleaded for critical medical equipment from a key national stockpile, Florida has promptly received 100 percent of its first two requests — with President Trump and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis both touting their close relationship,” the Washington Post reported.

As always, the president seems singularly focused on his political fortunes in November. Nothing else explains his erratic behavior during the crisis.

Keep in mind, Trump wants to win Florida in the fall campaign.

Specifically, he fears losing to Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE and his campaign is open about that anxiety.

"This is the bottom line: President Trump is leading the nation in this war against the coronavirus, and Joe Biden, the Democrats and the media have decided to be the opposition in that war," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, told campaign surrogates last week.

Trump even tried to pit Cuomo against Biden by suggesting that Cuomo is the better choice for the Democrats to nominate as their presidential candidate.


“I wouldn’t mind running against Andrew…I’ll be honest, I think he’d be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” His nervousness about Biden was evident again when he added the nation needs “a great president...I personally don't think Joe Biden is capable."

Biden is not responding with put-downs, but by saying he is open to talking with Trump.

Biden supporters, however, are taking to the airwaves with hard-hitting ads replaying the president’s own dismissive words and misinformation during the early weeks of the outbreak.

Priorities USA, one of the top Democratic super-PACs, is running a $6 million television and digital ad campaign in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, slamming Trump’s poor handling of the crisis.

Trump bears responsibility for pushing politics to the forefront of this crisis. He is the one who is thin-skinned, demanding public praise and describing Democrats and even Republicans who disagree with him as “the opposition” in this moment of national trauma.

Wrong, Mr. President — the virus is the opposition.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.