Greg Abbott May Regret Reminding Voters He Imitated Newsom, Cuomo

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images It’s likely Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was trying to liken himself to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Re...


Greg Abbott

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s likely Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was trying to liken himself to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a fellow Republican and rising star within their party, when he announced this week that he was lifting his state’s restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately for Abbott, the move had the opposite effect among many critics, who took the opportunity to accuse him of trying to merely look like DeSantis after he governed more like Democratic Governors Gavin Newsom (CA) and Andrew Cuomo (NY).

The development came after Abbott’s March 2 announcement that he was ending a statewide mask mandate in Texas and lifting economic restrictions related to the pandemic. “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities,” Abbott said. “Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

It was a remarkable change of heart for a governor who imposed those restrictions less than a year earlier, including the mask mandate, which was mandated July 2. It also came after the state suffered for months from an elevated level of unemployment, beginning with a peak unemployment rate of 12.9 percent in April. The figure fell to 6.9 percent in August before rising, once again, to nearly 8 percent in September. Some small businesses were forced to shutter. As in some other states, those who tried to keep their businesses open in defiance of Abbott were jailed, including Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther. (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz later paid a visit to the salon for a haircut, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the situation “outrageous.”)

Conservatives took notice of Abbott’s announcement, and many wondered whether it was a result of a poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend that showed DeSantis as a clear favorite among attendees to assume former President Donald Trump’s mantle as the Republican Party’s leader.

Fifty-five percent of attendees named Trump as their first choice to become the party’s presidential nominee in 2024, compared to 21 percent who chose DeSantis, the second-place finisher. In a poll taken without Trump’s name, DeSantis placed first, with 43 percent of the vote, followed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who received 11 percent. Abbott received no support in the poll that included Trump’s name, and .1 percent in the one without it.

When Abbott made his announcement on Tuesday about lifting restrictions, critics took note. “Apparently Texas [was] getting a little jealous of all the love conservatives have thrown at Florida in the last few months, [and] finally decided to step up and lead the charge against continued lockdowns,” radio host Buck Sexton wryly noted on Twitter. “Abbott saw DeSantis getting praised as the best governor in the country and said well … let me raise you one,” wrote another user.

Predictably, left-wing critics slammed Abbott as well. “Probably not a coincidence that Abbott saw DeSantis and Noem become the toast of CPAC in part by adopting the ‘COVID is over’ strategy,” wrote Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters.

The comments illustrate why Abbott’s move to open his state may ironically have been a poor prospect for him politically. And he isn’t just trailing among Republicans with their eyes set on 2024. Forty-six percent of Texas voters approved of Abbott’s job performance last month, according to the University of Austin’s Texas Politics Project, compared to 39 percent who disapproved. The numbers represented a marked shift from February 2020, a month before lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic began, when he received approval from 56 percent of voters compared to just 32 percent disapproval.

Abbott may be looking at his neighbor to the east with a bit of envy for more reasons than one. A Mason-Dixon survey this month showed DeSantis winning approval from 53 percent of his state’s voters, compared to disapproval from 42 percent.

Those numbers come after the Florida governor kept his state mostly open for business throughout the pandemic. He lifted statewide restrictions that did exist in August, and eliminated a mask mandate in October. He also prohibited overzealous officials in municipal leadership — especially those in Miami — from using fines to enforce extreme measures they had imposed, such as fining citizens seen outside of their homes without a face mask.

By contrast, Abbott kept restrictions in place well into 2021. Did those measures ensure the health or general well-being of  Texans compared to residents of other states? Not really, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Texas has experienced 9,158 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents to date, according to the agency, compared to 8,812 in California. Florida, where that figure stands at 8,767, has outperformed both.

Despite many leaders treating the shutdowns as trivial, studies suggest they will cause incalculable pain well into the future. Overdose deaths related to opioids and other drugs increased by nearly 40 percent through the first half of 2020, according to the CDC. Doctors refused to conduct routine cancer screenings for the handful of patients who sought them; as a result, researchers say cancer deaths are set to spike by a double-digit percentage in upcoming years. Employment will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released in February, provided this year’s economic frailty doesn’t evolve into something worse.

Voters, if they were not already aware, will become increasingly aware of these issues as they manifest in the years ahead. That could become a problem for many elected officials, and Abbott is no exception.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.



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