President Donald Trump praised West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to shift over to the Republican party at a rally Thursday while touting his support of the coal mining industry, a cause Justice has frequently championed.
“Having Big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” Trump said, referring to the governor’s 6-foot-7 stature.
“Governor Justice did something else very important tonight: He showed the country that our agenda rises above left and right," Trump added.
Justice cited the president’s commitment to revitalizing coal within the state as part of his reason for switching parties.
"I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor," Justice told the crowd in Huntington. "So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
The president also stressed his continued commitment to boosting coal miners, a promise he frequently alluded to during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I love the people of this state, I love their grit, and I love the coal miners,” Trump said at the rally in Huntington, where the industry plays a major role in the state’s economy.
The West Virginia governor, a former coal businessman and the richest person in the state, said he considered Trump a close personal friend and pointed to their nonpolitical backgrounds as part of their connection.
Justice’s rightward turn is far from a surprise. The West Virginia native was a registered Republican until 2015, before shifting his affiliation to the Democratic Party. During the 2016 campaign, he declined to endorse Hillary Clinton, citing her stance toward the coal industry and energy policy as his rationale.
“I cannot be a supporter of Hillary Clinton,” Justice said during an October interview on a state radio station. “The reason I can’t be is her position on coal is diametrically, completely wrong in many, many different ways.”
Justice has been a staunch supporter of the industry and has praised Trump’s promise to put coal miners back to work, putting him at odds with the Democratic Party’s position on fossil fuels.