Trump and Murphy are saying nice things about each other during coronavirus crisis. Here’s why.

Posted Mar 31, 2020

President Donald Trump hasn’t been shy about blasting away at governors who have criticized his performance or said the federal government isn’t doing enough to help their states during the coronavirus crisis. He’s even suggested they show gratitude to get help.

But when it comes to Gov. Phil Murphy, the president has been downright effusive, calling New Jersey’s Democratic governor “a terrific guy.”

With his state showing the second-largest outbreak of COVID-19, behind only New York, Murphy has steadfastly refrained from bashing a Republican president he frequently criticized before the outbreak. He’s publicly thanked Trump for the federal aid while lobbying for more.

In so doing, Murphy has avoided the barbs Trump has aimed at other Democratic governors. The president on Friday said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “has no idea what’s going on” and described Washington Gov. Jay Inslee as a failed presidential candidate" who was “constantly chirping."

Trump offered fresh praise of Murphy on Sunday.

“We’re building hospitals in New Jersey,” the president said. “Governor Murphy of New Jersey is a terrific guy and, frankly, he wants — you know, he’s got a pretty hot spot right there, right next to New York. And we’re doing hospitals. We’re doing ventilators. We’re getting a lot to Governor Murphy. That’s New Jersey.”

John Weingart, director of the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center on the American Governor, said that unlike his predecessors, Trump wants recipients of federal largesse to respond with praise for him.

“With this president, he likes to be sucked up to,” Weingart said. “The way Murphy addresses Trump and communicates with him, that’s the way Trump likes to be addressed."

Murphy said Tuesday at his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton that his approach “has nothing to do with what a given person wants to hear.”

The governor said New Jersey is in crisis, and as governor he is focusing on “how much common ground we can find with the administration. We will do what it takes to save as many lives as we can in New Jersey.”

Later in the day, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Murphy if he was holding his tongue for fear that Trump might take it out on New Jersey.

“Listen, I don’t think I pull any punches and I’m sure the president doesn’t pull any punches," Murphy said. "As I’ve said to many folks, I don’t wake up in the morning getting to choose between President X, President Y. President Trump is the president and so we have to have a good working relationship with the administration.”

Murphy regularly requests help from White House, including having the Army Corps of Engineers build four temporary hospitals, a new supply of respirators and masks, and Trump issuing a major disaster declaration for New Jersey, freeing up a share of $45 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. He says he’ll be asking the feds for more.

Former U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, a Republican, said the working relationship between Murphy and Trump should be the norm, not the exception, during the crisis.

“This is obviously a national crisis of an unprecedented degree,” Lance said. “Regarding a national crisis, a war-type situation — and we are in a war against a deadly enemy — labels should matter not at all.”

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