In July 2021, a radio host in Dallas asked Gov. Greg Abbott if he was tired of being compared to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis all the time. Abbott laughed off the idea that he and the rising star in the GOP were at odds.
“DeSantis and I do a lot of things together,” he said, while adding that Texas had beat Florida to the punch in passing permitless carry for handguns and a ban on abortions after roughly six weeks gestation. “We talk in ways and times that people have no idea about … and so I just kind of roll my eyes and scoff a little bit when people say these things.”
About a year and a half later, talk over whether the two governors of the most populous Republican-controlled states may run for president in 2024 has escalated. But those analogies aren’t fair.
DeSantis’ potential presidential run has electrified Texas Republicans, overshadowing Abbott. Despite the two governors ‘ recent agendas and policies being comparable, Abbott’s GOP adversaries use DeSantis as a conservative yardstick to criticize him.
DeSantis and Abbott often appear to be in an ideological arms race, presumably contending for the nation’s most conservative governor title. They lead and then follow one other, implementing policies and supporting measures that move both states to the right.
The two have supported reopening businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, restricting abortion, expanding gun access, transporting migrants to blue cities, cracking down on diversity policies in K-12 and higher education, and banning the Chinese government and its citizens from purchasing state land.
The Lone Star Governor: Greg Abbott’s Dominance in Texas Politics
Abbott and DeSantis have many traits. Both won high-profile reelections in November when Republicans failed. Both candidates have raised seven-figure sums for their gubernatorial campaigns.
“You look at [Abbott] and say, ‘Sure, he brings the conservative credentials, but he’s not seen like the fighter that Donald Trump is or DeSantis is becoming,’” said Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin.
Texas conservative political strategist Luke Macias, who often criticizes Abbott, said it’s more than policy. Leadership.
DeSantis and Abbott often appear to be locked in an unspoken ideological arms race as they take turns leading and then following one another, enacting policies and backing bills that push both states further to the right. https://t.co/Pp2eeaiXix
— WFAA (@wfaa) March 1, 2023
Macias cited Abbott’s quiet approach in the 2021 abortion and gun laws he now claims as conservative victories. Abbott did not support a “heartbeat bill” to restrict abortion and “constitutional carry” to expand gun rules until it was evident they were advancing at the Capitol that session. He signed both bills.
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Florida Republicans don’t care about Abbott’s tactics. Texas Republicans want DeSantis over Abbott as their 2024 presidential candidate. DeSantis is a more plausible and formidable presidential candidate.
In a Sunday Fox News poll, Trump led the 2024 primary with 43%, DeSantis followed with 28%, and Abbott trailed with 2%. Florida does not “see Texas as a rival in… our freedom or where we are legislatively anymore,” according to Republican Party vice chair Evan Power.