Wednesday’s encounter with Trump along the border, which will likely grab plenty of coverage from coast to coast, comes after Abbott in recent weeks has also signed bills restricting the teaching of critical race theory in his state and allowing Texas to carry weapons without a license.
It also comes two weeks before the state legislature – under orders from the governor – will return for a special session to pass legislation tightening voting access rules, another GOP priority.
Abbott was arguably outshined earlier this year by fellow conservative Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida as the leader of the Republican resistance in the GOP-controlled states against President Biden and his Democratic administration.
But in the past few weeks Abbott has become a major thorn in the side of the new president — all while he gears up for a 2022 bid for a third term steering Texas, with a potential 2024 GOP presidential run looming in the distance.
“We’ve seen so many people coming across the border who are harming Texans and as governor I cannot allow my fellow Texans to being harmed or endangered,” Abbott declared two weeks ago in an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
And he pledged: “We’re going to arrest people and put them in jail for a long time so they will know they’re no longer going to be getting the Biden red carpet treatment.”
Abbott announced earlier this month steps to stem the flow of migrants illegally crossing the border into Texas — among them are temporary fencing along the border as he pledges to finish construction of the border wall begun under then-President Trump, but halted at the beginning of the Biden presidency.
The governor is also beefing up the presence of state police at the border and arresting and jailing people caught illegally trespassing on private property.
“Texas is going to do what the Biden administration is refusing to do. Texas is going up step up and secure our border. We will be using every tool available to us under the law. And we will ensure that we build the wall, arrest people and make Texas safe, and send a message to Washington D.C. ‘stand up and do your job,’” Abbott told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Longtime Abbott political adviser David Carney told Fox News that the “conceptual part” of the trip with Trump to the border “has been in the works for months.” Carney said that Trump “wanted to come down and see firsthand what was going on and what the governor’s plans are, and the governor invited him.”
“The president’s going to get a briefing from the governor and his top Homeland Security people,” Carney shared, adding that the two men – along with some House GOP members – will “tour part of the border along the wall where the president’s policies built it and where the Biden administration ended it abruptly on Jan. 20.”
Austin-based Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser pointed out that taking action on border security “in Texas, especially among Republicans but even among independents, that’s a very wise thing to do. To acknowledge the crisis, to talk about it, to have some solutions.”
“Voters in Texas care a lot about the border,” he emphasized. “They support border security. A lot of Hispanic Texans who live in the Rio Grande valley along the border who are swing voters support border security.”
The multiple moves by Abbott in recent weeks bring him back to his political roots of taking on a Democratic White House in Washington, when as Texas attorney general he filed numerous lawsuits against then-President Obama’s administration.
Abbott’s actions also come ahead of his 2022 reelection bid. But Carney said that campaign politics was not a motivating factor behind the flurry of activity.
“Part of it has to do with timing. The legislative session just concluded and in June he had 20 days to sign or veto legislation. A lot of things that got attention were things that he’d been working on since his state of the state address and since the beginning of the session. The just didn’t get the attention nationally,” Carney explained.
Some Republicans in Texas say that Abbott’s muscular moves are an effort to protect his right flank, after taking plenty of incoming fire last year from furious Texas conservatives over his mask mandates and COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. And the governor was also dinged earlier this year for the state’s handling of a deadly winter storm, which triggered a electrical grid collapse that left millions of Texans freezing amid abnormally frigid temperatures.
Abbott is already facing a primary challenge from the right from former state Sen. Don Huffines. And outgoing state GOP chair Allen West – a controversial and outspoken former congressman from Florida – is also publicly mulling a bid against Abbott.
“We have zero focus on all the chatter,” Carney insisted. “We are 100% confident we know where the Republican primary voters are. We’re not worried at all about the primary. It’s the silly season in Texas because the session’s over and lots of people have lots of dreams.”
While both the governor and his advisers stress that politics has nothing to do with the stepped up actions on the border, the visit by Trump – who has already endorsed Abbott’s reelection – will only further raise the governor’s stature among conservatives itching to fire back against the Biden administration.
Bill Pozzi, the Republican chair in ruby red Victoria County, told Fox News that “people were really grumbling about the governor three to six months ago, with the COVID situation. Now he’s redeemed himself on that three legged stool of build the wall, constitutional carry and voting rights. Those three things are very important to the average grassroots Republican voter at least in my county.”
And Steinhauser highlighted that by focusing on border security and the other issues important to conservatives, Abbott is helping to secure his reelection.
“Part of the reason Abbott’s going to win hands down is because of all the things that he’s doing — everything from the border to going down with the former president on Wednesday to what he did in the legislative session,” he emphasized.
Pictures of Abbott and Trump together at the border this week will ignite further speculation about Abbott’s potential national ambitions in 2024. Abbott’s two predecessors as Texas governor both ran for the White House — George W. Bush twice successfully, and Rick Perry twice without success.
“I think it gives him more of a national profile and allows people to take a look at him,” Steinhauser offered.
He said that while Florida’s DeSantis, a possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, has grabbed plenty of attention for his pushback against the Biden administration on COVID-19 restrictions and on the economy, “Abbott’s in a great position to be seen as leading on the issue” of border security.
But Carney emphasized that when it comes to a possible White House run, “the governor’s never discussed it one way or another” and that “it’s not a priority, discussion or fantasy of the governor’s.”
Carney offered that if Abbott had 2024 on his mind, “I’m sure we’d be up in New Hampshire helping Chris Sununu doing stuff, and we’d be in Iowa with Kim Reynolds doing stuff,” as he pointed to the GOP governors in the two states that for decades have led off the presidential nominating calendar.