Just after West Virginia Governor Jim Justice switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party last month, reporters asked him to define the Republican values he identifies with. Justice responded in part by saying, “The net-net of the whole thing is just this: Jim isn’t changing. Jim is still going to be Jim. Jim is still going to be the person who stands up for the common, everyday family. That’s all there is to it.”
Justice certainly rejects the conventional political wisdom.
As a Democratic Governor he ended up working more closely with Republican leaders in the Senate to try to reach a budget deal. He even built a strong relationship with Republican President Donald Trump, and it’s apparent that Trump’s influence played a role in Justice’s decision to switch parties.
By making the switch, Justice severely disappointed Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin who was among the first to encourage Justice to run for Governor. Then this week during a meeting with Republicans who wanted to quiz him on his GOP bona fides, Justice strongly indicated he will support Manchin’s re-election bid next year even though Justice’s new party is determined to oust Manchin.
MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny quoted Justice telling the Republicans, “Joe Manchin has been a friend of mine. Now he may be a terrible person to y’all, but Joe has been a friend of mine and I’m going to tell you this as straight up as I can be: Joe Manchin is becoming a very key, integral part with Donald Trump, and I’m going to take my read off of Donald Trump.”
Now that falls short of a formal endorsement, but it’s evident from those remarks that Justice is not about to be the Republican flag bearer of whichever candidate—Congressman Even Jenkins or Attorney General Patrick Morrisey—gets the nomination to take on Manchin.
Justice is known to recoil when staffers refer to the politics of a given situation. He soundly rejects any suggestion that he even is a politician. By definition anyone who runs for a political office is a politician, but you’ll never convince Justice of that.
That’s been part of his appeal all along, although making a highly-publicized switch from Democrat to Republican less than a year after his election undermines his apolitical self-identification.
It’s best not to think too hard about Justice’s motives. You’ll just get tangled in switchbacks of his words and actions. The conventional political wisdom and the associated rules—real and unspoken—don’t apply.
Frankly, that’s often refreshing. The fact that Justice may tack in an uncharted direction on policy or answer a question bluntly means one thing: Justice is not a Machiavellian schemer.
As Justice would say—inevitably in the third person—Jim is still going to be Jim.