National Politics

Republican governors delight in dominance under Donald Trump

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, jokes with governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Nikki Haley of South Carolina during a press conference on Tuesday. Nov. 15, 2016 at the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference, in Orlando.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, jokes with governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Nikki Haley of South Carolina during a press conference on Tuesday. Nov. 15, 2016 at the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference, in Orlando. TNS

There aren’t many elected Republicans in America happier about Donald Trump’s election than Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an early Trump supporter in a battleground state dominated by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio loyalists.

Not only is Scott a fellow super-rich businessman and political outsider who ran against the GOP establishment, he also ran a healthcare company, Columbia/HCA, that was targeted by the Clinton administration in the 1990s for Medicare fraud. So you can understand why Scott — a likely candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 — is smiling this week.

“I now have a president I can talk to. I talk to Trump a lot. I have both a president and a vice president who are friends of mine,” Scott, 63, said Tuesday in Orlando, where he is attending the annual conference of the Republican Governors Association.

More surprising after months of GOP leaders wringing their hands about Trump at the top of the ticket is how quickly Scott’s gubernatorial colleagues have replaced their uneasiness with glee. Nothing eases anxiety better than overwhelming dominance of America’s levers of power. Starting in January, Republicans will control all three branches of the federal government and at least 33 governorships — more than any time in nearly a century.

“People had varying views over the last several months about candidate Donald Trump,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former rival of Trump’s for the presidential nomination. “But no matter what your opinion was of the person, the possibilities are endless now that we have a Republican president, a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a vast Republican majority when it comes to governors and state leaders across America.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley nine months ago saw Trump as “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” On Tuesday, one week after his election, she described herself as “giddy” and saw nothing but opportunity.

“Just right off the bat think about the regulations we can roll back, whether it’s EPA-related, the overtime rules, Obamacare,” she told assorted vendors, lobbyists and political activists gathered at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. “I’ve never known what it’s like to have a Republican president. I can tell you over the last six years, Washington was the hardest part of my job.”

Few people know quite what to expect from a President Trump — and most of the Republican governors attending the conference kept away from reporters Tuesday — but Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate and head of his transition team assured them that the administration was on the right track. Asked about former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, associated widely with the alt right and white nationalists, governors consistently said they did not know him and turned the topic back to Pence, who spoke at the conference Monday night.

“My experience with Trump in the years that I’ve known him, he’s a guy that gets along with people. He’s a consensus builder, he’s pragmatic, and he wants to get stuff done,” said Scott, who led a super PAC that spent $20 million on TV ads for Trump in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who declined to endorse Trump, said what matters most are results.

“He gets to choose whoever he wants to select,” she said. “Now what’s most important is what is he going to deliver? ... The campaign’s over and now it’s looking forward, to making sure that, as the governors deliver, that he also delivers as well.”

The governors were vague about specifically what they want delivered, particularly about what should and can replace the Affordable Care Act, which Florida’s governor repeatedly attacked as a giant lie and failure.

“I don’t know that there will ever be a turn off the switch, wait a period of time and then turn it back on. There’s going to have to be a transition,” said Martinez, whose citizens rely heavily on Obamacare for health insurance coverage.

Haley said it’s inevitable that governors will have disagreements here and there with Trump but, “We are in a far better situation than we were a month, two months, two years ago. The idea that Republican governors can now have a seat at the table and actually get some things done ... is what we care about.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said GOP leaders need to show some humility and not forget that they did not always live up to their promises when they had control of government.

“We cannot squander this opportunity,” Ducey said. “We have to act with purpose.”

Gov. Scott said he had spoken to Trump three times since the election, and said his advice as a fellow political outsider is pretty simple.

“If you come in as an outsider, there’s a lot that you don’t know. There’s no book on being governor, there’s no book on being president. You have to surround yourself with people that remember how you got elected and what you ran on and make sure they continue to help you get those things done,” Scott said. “You’ve got to stay true to why you won and what you ran on. I think Trump will.”