It’s difficult to believe that President Donald Trump is so influential that someone could change political parties to support him, but that’s exactly what happened in West Virginia on Thursday. During a rally with the president in his home state, Gov. Jim Justice announced that he’s leaving the Democratic party to join the Republicans, HuffPost reports.
“Today I’ll tell you, as West Virginians, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Gov. Justice said at the rally. “So tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican. The Democrats walked away from me.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 3, 2017
Although Trump hinted that he knew of the governor’s decision and promoted “a very big announcement” to be shared at the rally, apparently none of Justice’s staff had a clue. “No one in the administration knew,” a source from the governor’s office said. “It took everyone by complete surprise.”
According to The New York Times earlier this year, Justice has "been both Republican and Democrat" and became Democrat shortly before his race for governor. He was elected into office in Dec. 2016. The state of West Viriginia's Democratic party was such a mess at the time that Justice felt "like that today the common, everyday guy is really hurting, and he needs a voice."
Trump and Justice have maintained a friendship for awhile, and both didn't have much political experience before running for different offices last year. After Justice announced his switch, Trump spoke up at the rally, proclaiming, "I want to thank your great governor, having Big Jim as a Republican is such a honor."
Republicans in the state are praising the news, particularly executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party Jordan Burgess. "West Virginia has come a long way in our comeback story of rejecting nearly a century of liberal Democrat control," he said in a statement. "Tonight marks another step in our movement."
Justice's fellow Democrats (although not for long, I guess) only confirmed suspicions about the governor. "Jim Justice deceived the voters of West Virginia when he ran as a Democrat 8 months ago," Democratic Governors Association executive director Elisabeth Pearson said. "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."
This announcement marks only 15 Democratic governors currently serving in the United States.