Federalism vs. Trumpism

In his tortured dance with state governors over responsibility for crafting and implementing a coherent, humane, and effective COVID-19 response, President Trump has put the tension between the national government and the state governments in bold relief. But this time around, it’s the states that are coming to the rescue of the people. And they are doing it regardless of Trump’s bullying politics.

Trump’s incoherence on federalism has become infamous. He recently claimed “total” authority over the states while directing them to deal with the virus on their own. And he has refused to fully invoke the federal government’s statutory powers to address a national pandemic while chiding governors for imposing social distancing and other restrictions that epidemiologists believe are crucial to public health. And he directed a trio of “LIBERATE” tweets at Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia—all states headed by Democratic governors.

But unlike in the U.S. Congress, where Republicans are now happy to follow Donald Trump in walking across any coals, jumping off any bridge, and leaping off any cliff, Republican governors have faced off against Trump in the name of public health. Maryland governor Larry Hogan, with his wife as translator, recently negotiated and secured the purchase of 500,000 test kits from South Korea—a practical fix to the feds’ unresponsiveness. When Trump claimed that Hogan “could’ve saved a lot of money” by simply calling Vice President Mike Pence for help, Hogan—a Republican—retorted, “We did what [Trump] told us to do which was go out and get our testing.”