CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says President Donald Trump loves him.
But does President Trump, who has been a frequent visitor to West Virginia, love other aspects of the state?
Justice seemed to raise that question during a re-election campaign appearance in Beckley on Thursday.
The governor was talking about conflicts in state politics, including statements of no confidence by members of the Senate’s Republican majority. His quote was reported by Pete Davis of WAJR.
“The gamble that you have that is so on the table is, whether you like him or don’t like him, whether you like me or don’t like me, you have a president of the United States of America that truly has an attraction to West Virginia,” Justice said.
“And his attraction to West Virginia, contrary to anything you may think, is me. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s just me.”
Justice has long touted his strong relationship with Trump.
The governor changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican during a Trump rally in Huntington almost two years ago.
“Having Big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” Trump said after the two shook hands and embraced. “He’s a fantastic man. A fantastic guy.”
The two chief executives share outsider status in politics, a business background that includes resort ownership and unique ways of expressing themselves.
Last fall at a rally in Huntington, Trump again introduced Justice, who is 6-foot-7, as “Big Jim.”
“We are joined today by many terrific Republican leaders, including a friend of mine and I have to tell you, Big Jim, biggest human being I’ve ever seen,” Trump said. “Big Jim Justice, do we like him? He is our great governor.”
Last week, the governor announced a fundraiser on West Virginia Day featuring Donald Trump Jr.
“It’s not news that Governor Justice and President Trump are close allies, and that’s why Donald Trump, Jr. is coming to support Jim Justice next week,” Justice campaign spokesman Mike Lukach said today.
But Trump has also been to West Virginia in support of other aspects of the state and its politics.
“President Trump loves West Virginia a lot, and West Virginians adore him. In 2016, President Trump pledged to end the war on “beautiful clean coal” and put our coal miners and energy workers back to work, which he has done. There is no doubt that President Trump and Governor Justice have a special friendship that both leaders speak about often,” stated GOP chairwoman Melody Potter.
“President Trump has also recognized the strong leadership of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and our entire Congressional delegation. We’re proud of the strong relationships that all our Republican elected officials at the federal and state level have with President Trump, which has and will continue to benefit West Virginians.”
State Senator Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, who this week called for Justice to resign, issued a new round of criticism on Friday afternoon.
“Governor Justice has told us that we ‘need’ him and that he is the only reason President Trump believes in our state,” Blair stated. “Those claims would be laughable if they weren’t so disturbingly self-centered and completely divorced from the truth.”
Trump won 67.9 percent of West Virginia’s vote during the 2016 general election, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 26.2 percent.
The president’s approval in West Virginia remains at 57 percent, according to Morning Consult. That popularity rating is among the highest in the country.
When he was campaigning for president, Trump visited the Charleston Civic Center, put on a coal mining hard hat and gestured as if scooping coal. Since then, he has often made reference to “clean, beautiful coal.”
Last fall, Trump campaigned for Republican candidates in West Virginia, including Patrick Morrisey, who was running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin, and Carol Miller, who was running for a vacated congressional seat.
As the governor’s race has heated up already for 2020, Justice has continued to lean into his relationship with Trump.
This week wasn’t the first time Justice has described being Trump’s main connection to West Virginia.
The governor made a similar statement to Republicans at an event in Harrison County in early May. Then, too, he was talking about criticism of his residency and his companies’ financial troubles, which were flowing into politics.
“The last of my last that I would say is just this,” Justice said at the end of his presentation that night. “Don’t awaken to what I’m about to say.
“What if, what if tomorrow, what if tomorrow I were to say ‘OK, look listen, let’s be truthful here guys. I mean I’m busting my butt, I’m trying to do anything and everything I can. I’m trying to embrace Republicans, I’m trying to do this for our state. And I’ve done my duty, I’ve served, and I’ve done my duty, and I’m just going to make it for the next year and a half or whatever like that and continue to do all I can do and everything else.'”
Justice continued saying, “Where’s the first call going to come from? You know what the first call is going to be? It’s going to be President Trump, and he’s going to say ‘What in the hell is wrong with these people. Now, you can’t do this Jim, what in the hell is wrong with those people?'”
Then the governor concluded by saying, “And then the next thing you don’t know about him is this: When you cross him, he doesn’t forget it. And if you think, if you think then he’ll be back here and he’ll be doing anything he can do for West Virginia, then you’re out of your mind. That’s all there is to it.”