President Trump’s rally in West Virginia on Thursday night attracted an estimated 10,000 people, but West Virginia’s Gov. Jim Justice stole Trump’s spotlight when he announced that he is leaving the Democratic Party and defecting to the Republican’s side of the aisle.
The billionaire owner of The Greenbrier hotel, Justice originally started out his political career as a Republican but became a Democrat in 2015.
“The Democrats walked away from me,” Justice told the crowd gathered at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. “I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor. As a coach, I would tell you that it’s time to run another play.” Justice was one of the last remaining Democrats elected to a statewide position in West Virginia, but he changed all that on Thursday evening.
Trump won West Virginia by 42 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, and if the adoring crowd that greeted him was any indication, he has not lost a single voter.
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) August 3, 2017
Brought to the stage in the middle of Trump’s rally, Justice praised Trump, calling him a “great president.” He also talked about the relationships he’s established with Trump’s children, including Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom he said he has gotten to know personally.
“This man is a good man,” Justice said of Trump. “He’s got a backbone, he’s got real ideas, he cares about America, he cares about us in West Virginia.”
Justice’s announcement came out of left field, according to Democratic Party officials, who said that the governor did not give his former Party advance warning of his big announcement. Not even Justice’ own staff had an inkling of what was about to take place.
Insinuating that Justice was being influenced by personal financial interests, as well as political ones, some Democrats voiced their outrage.
“Jim Justice deceived the voters of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat eight months ago,” complained Elisabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. “West Virginians have learned that they simply can’t trust Jim Justice. He will always put his financial interests above the needs of West Virginians.”
She added, “As Republicans have repeatedly said, Jim Justice owes millions of dollars in unpaid company taxes, after a deal with a Russian coal company. The debts have only worsened during Justice’s term as governor. If President Trump cut a deal, we hope it does not put U.S. taxpayers on the hook to bail out Jim Justice’s personal finances.”
West Virginia’s Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin III said he was “disappointed” in Justice’s decision to leave the Party.
“While I do not agree with his decision, I have always said that I will work with anyone, no matter their political affiliation, to do what is best for the people of West Virginia,” Manchin said.
The state’s other senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, traveled with Trump to West Virginia. She praised Justice for taking a stand for “policies that will improve the lives of West Virginians.”
Prior to the rally, President Trump tweeted, “Just arrived in West Virginia for a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN rally in Huntington at 7:00pmE. Massive crowd expected – tune in!
He may or may not have known the surprise Justice had in store for the evening.
Just arrived in West Virginia for a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN rally in Huntington at 7:00pmE. Massive crowd expected – tune in! #MAGA🇺🇸
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2017
In a statement after the announcement, Republican Governors Association (RGA) chairman Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, welcomed Justice to the Party.
“Across the country, Republican governors are taking action, getting results, achieving meaningful reform and leading their states forward, and we’re thrilled that Governor Jim Justice wants to join our efforts,” Walker said. “On behalf of our nation’s Republican governors, we welcome Governor Justice to the RGA, and look forward to working with him to advance conservative principles and strengthen West Virginia.”