Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner can duck the realities of American politics for only so long.
The Republican was among only four no-shows Monday at a confab between 46 governors and President Donald Trump. He, too, skipped out Sunday night on the president's first White House gala, which brought governors to the White House to talk Obamacare over what I can only assume was some pretty good wine.
Rauner's absence is particularly noteworthy. Chicago is a featured component of Trump's American Carnage tour. I'm pretty sure I bought that album in the 1990s. But I digress.
Yes, Illinois' economic center is among Trump's favorite punching bags highlighting what he sees as the breakdown of civil society. Its number of murders — not its actual murder rate, mind you — is one of Trump's primary targets. The president, yet again, smacked Chicago during Sunday night's dinner party.
"What's going on in Chicago?" he asked the governors on hand, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
And yet, Rauner wasn't on hand to argue, respond or generally engage the president on the issue.
Hey, at least Trump didn't threaten to roll out the tanks this time.
Rauner instead opted to roll out his plans to "transform Medicaid Services in Illinois" at Mount Sinai Hospital in Illinois. But his absence poses countless questions and, perhaps, even more causes for concern, should the president continue his verbal assault on the seat of economic power in Illinois.
I asked Rauner's staff Monday morning why he left Washington early following the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. A spokeswoman said the governor referred me to audio of Rauner addressing the matter during a Monday morning media gaggle in Chicago. But the audio, which was supposed to be posted on the state website early Monday afternoon, hadn't appeared by 4 p.m.
Rauner is gearing up for dogfight next year when he seeks re-election. The results of manufactured photo-ops with Trump certainly would be used against him.
Rauner didn't face many good options. Placate Trump and be branded a turncoat against his state. Argue with him and risk offending much of his own party.
But Ohio's anti-Trump Republican Gov. John Kasich showed up. He even held a media conference on Friday to detail his his argument against the gutting of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, also a Republican, showed his face, too. Photographers captured Baker flanking Trump's daughter, Ivanka, with Kentucky's Matt Bevins. And Baker is from a state that's more hostile to Trump than even Rauner's.
This isn't the first time Rauner has demurred when national politics put him on the hot spot. Last month, Trump's travel ban put O'Hare International Airport in the spotlight. Green card holders were detained there. Protesters flooded the place. Rauner, in the past, supported more thorough "vetting" of Syrian refugees during the Obama administration. But such a stand was easy then. Suddenly, peoples' lives were being disrupted — and their rights walked upon — in Illinois.
Rauner responded by saying the courts should figure it out, adding that Trump's ban caused him "serious concern."
There are indeed political risks for Rauner should he publicly hobnob with the Trumps.
But two facts remain: Illinois is the fifth-most populous state and boasts a major metro. It's also a regular target for a president who could further undermine a state that already has enough problems.
Not engaging Trump might seem appealing on its face. But it's Illinois that stands to lose if Rauner continues to decline to defend it.
Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.