Michigan is where Trump’s behavior presents the clearer danger to him come November. The president has repeatedly disparaged Whitmer and suggested that the White House should not return her calls, even as the state is buckling under the nation’s third-largest coronavirus caseload and faces medical-equipment and staffing shortages. “It is politically stupid of the president to pick a fight with a governor who is trying to manage a crisis in a state that he has to win,” Eric Goldman, Whitmer’s former campaign manager, says flatly.
In Florida, conditions have not yet reached such a crisis point, though its caseload is growing steadily. But because DeSantis waited so long to act, he and Trump could be punished if the outbreak ultimately imposes a heavy cost on the state. “If this does get worse and worse … I think DeSantis’s vulnerability is Trump’s vulnerability,” says Adam Smith, a Tampa-based senior vice president at the bipartisan firm Mercury Public Affairs.
In no other swing state has Trump’s relationship with a governor been as intense during the outbreak as his relationships with DeSantis and Whitmer. The two leaders, both elected in 2018, present different profiles. Whitmer, a former state senator, was at the vanguard of governors who moved quickly to shut down social and economic activity. She closed educational facilities on March 16 and imposed a statewide stay-at-home order a week later. DeSantis, a former congressman who soared from relative obscurity to win the gubernatorial nomination after Trump’s endorsement, closed educational facilities a day after Whitmer. But he conspicuously left open the state’s crowded beaches through spring break, and he didn’t impose a statewide stay-at-home order until April 1, after every other major state.