Trump swipe at DeWine follows year of campaign support, COVID-19 praise

President Donald Trump meeting with governors, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

A year of Gov. Mike DeWine defending the president’s pandemic response and supporting his reelection effort was undone by a brief acknowledgment of reality on cable TV.

To President Donald Trump, one comment is all it takes for someone to go from political ally to persona non grata.

On Sunday, DeWine said on CNN that Trump has a right to legally challenge the 2020 election result, but should begin working toward a transition for President-elect Joe Biden. That clip was aired Monday morning on Fox News, a network Trump frequently watches at the White House, leading the president to target DeWine’s own reelection hopes in 2022:

This tweet to the president’s 89 million followers bookends a year in which DeWine has consistently praised Trump and frequently dodged questions related to the president’s handling of the pandemic.

DeWine’s office issued this statement in response to the president’s tweet: “I have always had a great working relationship with the President. I am proud to have served as President Trump’s Campaign Co-Chairman in Ohio where we won by the largest margin of any swing state in the country. And I intend to run a winning campaign for governor in 2022.”

DeWine served as an honorary co-chair to Trump’s campaign in Ohio and recorded a video in support of Trump for the 2020 Republican National Convention. His lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, spoke at a Trump rally in September in favor of the president’s reelection — though the crowd of Trump supporters booed Husted for promoting mask-wearing to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

While DeWine has emphasized the need for masks and social distancing, Trump has often undercut this public health message by hosting large campaign rallies and downplaying the effectiveness of face coverings.

DeWine has sidestepped questions from reporters about these contradicting messages, instead choosing to praise the White House for its conference calls with governors and for its work in helping develop a vaccine. 

The Trump tweet came anyway. 

The president’s suggestion of a Republican primary comes as DeWine faces increasingly sharp attacks from seemingly all sides regarding his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic leaders, who have generally been supportive of the Republican governor and the Ohio Department of Health, want him to take more aggressive steps to slow the spread as Ohio sees record numbers of infections and hospitalizations.

Republican legislators have dialed up their own criticism of their party’s leader, insisting DeWine should refrain from issuing any further health orders such as business shutdowns.

DeWine earned very high marks from the general public early in the pandemic for his aggressive response in partnership with then-Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. That support led to widespread cooperation in the early weeks as the two enacted business closures and a stay-at-home order.

Support for DeWine has gradually waned in the months since, though a Great Lakes poll in September found a majority of Ohioans still viewed DeWine’s coronavirus response favorably.

Hours after Trump’s tweet, DeWine did receive a compliment from President-elect Joe Biden at a Monday afternoon press conference. Biden referred to DeWine as a leader in having “stepped up” to issue a mask mandate in Ohio.

Outside of the electoral ramifications of Trump’s tweet, the public sentiment over the Ohio pandemic approach may impact DeWine’s ability to amass future cooperation for any health orders still to come.

DeWine has hinted that orders pertaining to bars, restaurants and social gatherings could come as soon as this week.

The governor spent early Monday in West Virginia speaking to TV stations which broadcast to the southern and eastern portions of Ohio. DeWine has offered region-specific messages to Ohioans about the virus spike and how residents can slow the spread in their areas.

With this year’s election now over, some Ohio Republicans have begun turning their attention to 2022. Among them is Jim Renacci, a former Congressman from Medina County and fervent Trump supporter who ran for governor against DeWine in 2017. Renacci quit the Republican primary to instead campaign for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, who defeated Renacci in the 2018 General Election.

State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, has offered a similar view.

“The solution today is taking away (DeWine’s) emergency powers,” Powell wrote on Facebook after the governor’s statewide address on Nov. 11. “The solution in two years is to not re-elect Mike DeWine.”

Powell shared Trump’s tweet in agreement.

“Even President Donald J. Trump knows Governor Mike DeWine is doing a terrible job,” she posted. “Ohio needs conservative leadership that actually represent the people first.”

Some Ohio Democrats see the Trump tweet as a political lesson.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is another Republican facing reelection in 2022. He has not yet acknowledged the presidential election result.

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