Gov. Greg Abbott has long enjoyed high approval ratings among Texas Republicans since taking office in 2015, but that could soon change, as the governor continues to draw criticism over his economic shutdowns and moves into open war against grassroots conservatives.
It wasn’t always this way. In 2018, Abbott took the bold step of endorsing several conservative challengers against liberal establishment Republicans in the state legislature.
Take, for example, State Rep. Sarah Davis, a “Republican” member from the Houston-area.
Davis has the distinction of being the only openly pro-abortion Republican member in the state legislature. Regularly, she caucuses and votes with Democrats against pro-life legislation.
Just two years ago, Abbott endorsed her challenger in the Republican primary, rightly noting that Davis’ voting record was out of step with Republicans and conservatives in the state.
“She’s not really a Republican, but she has a ‘Republican’ by her name,” Abbott said at a fundraiser in January 2018. “It won’t surprise you to know The Huffington Post came out and glowingly compared her to Wendy Davis. We have beat Wendy Davis before. We cannot allow another Wendy Davis look-alike in the Texas House.”
Davis is not only a liberal on the issue of life; during the last legislative session alone, Davis worked to grow government spending, increase the ability of local governments to raise taxes, and even teamed up with Democrats to kill a proposed ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying.
In fact, Davis’ record on the Fiscal Responsibility Index is worse than some Democrat members, earning a 33 after the 2017 legislative session.
Despite Abbott endorsing an opponent of Davis, she ultimately prevailed in winning re-election. And as he predicted she would, “Republican” Sarah Davis voted as Democrat Wendy Davis would have in the House.
Her record as measured by the Index grew worse—declining by three points—and its substance became worse, as she voted to approve a budget that grew the size of government by nearly 16 percent and worked with Democrats to thwart pro-life records.
By any measure, Sarah Davis’ record was worse in 2019 than it was when Abbott opposed her in 2017, and most Republicans expected Abbott to move against her again.
Instead, he supported her.
In December, Abbott stated he was “proud” to endorse the pro-abortion candidate, adding that though they have disagreements, “we share the same commitment to bring people together to solve problems and improve the lives of all Texans.”
However, the Sarah Davis endorsement would not be an isolated incident.
In fact, Abbott offered his endorsement to every Republican incumbent member in the Texas Legislature, no matter their record of fighting for (or against) the conservative priorities he claims to champion. Liberal members who have found themselves in competitive Republican primary runoff elections—such as State Reps. Dan Flynn (Van) and J.D. Sheffield (Gatesville) were graced with the governor’s support.
Since December, Abbott’s response to the Chinese coronavirus has only served to anger conservative Texans, as businesses have been shut down and livelihoods threatened by a series of executive orders over the past few months. The outrage hit a fever pitch when Abbott announced, under his executive order, cities and counties could require businesses to require customers to wear masks or face heavy fines.
He has since followed that up with a reversal on the phased reopening of the state that he championed just weeks prior, suddenly closing bars across the state on Friday, ratcheting back capacity limits in restaurants, and banning tubing and rafting companies from doing business.
And just this weekend, the war hit a new peak when Abbott announced his endorsement of establishment candidate and former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus-endorsed Glenn Rogers. Rogers faces off in the runoff election against conservative Jon Francis for House District 60 to replace outgoing State Rep. Mike Lang (R–Granbury)—whom Abbott also endorsed against in a runoff for a county commissioner seat after Lang publicly criticized the governor’s actions in response to the coronavirus and called for a special session.
For context, Rogers’ statements on the campaign trail make it clear that he is far from the conservative choice. He is opposed to constitutional carry as well as banning taxpayer-funded lobbying—both legislative priorities of the Republican Party of Texas.
But in a Facebook post on Sunday ahead of early voting, Abbott jumped into the fray, saying the establishment candidate would be “a powerful voice for rural Texas in the Texas House.”
That did not go over well with the overwhelming majority of those who saw and commented on the governor’s post.
“Another person that clearly voters should not vote for. Anyone associated/endorsed with you should not be voted for!” said one commenter. “Consequences and accountability are on their way!”
“Endorsing on the grounds of a candidate being pro-business days after shutting down and crippling businesses for the second time in less than 3 months,” another said. “Does irony not exist on your planet?”
“How about providing a complete list of your endorsements so we know who NOT to vote for,” said another.
“You endorsing people has a negative effect until you open Texas,” another commented. “I don’t want to hear two more words out of your mouth until they are ‘Open Texas.’”
As of publishing, the post had garnered over 1,000 comments from citizens of all backgrounds who are frustrated with Abbott’s shutdown of the state.
Since his election as governor, Abbott had sought to remain in the good graces of all sectors of the Texas GOP. Each side had disagreements with them. For example, conservatives were frustrated with the individuals he chose as regents for the state’s public universities. On the other hand, when he supported Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s Texas Privacy Act, that inflamed the liberal wing of the party.
Much of the 2019 legislative session, however, saw Abbott enabling the party’s liberal establishment, as evidenced by his endorsements of liberal members such as Sarah Davis.
Since then, he’s increased his volume and moved into open war with the state’s grassroots conservatives by defending their enemies. The governor might be encouraging Texans to wear masks, but by all measures, it appears he has removed his.