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The Megastate G.O.P. Rivalry Between Abbott and DeSantis


AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida wanted to annoy a set of rich, liberal elites when he flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas, delivering them a slice of the humanitarian crisis simmering along the nation’s southern border.

But Mr. DeSantis’s stunt also annoyed a wholly different group — fellow Republicans in Austin, including a number of the allies and aides of Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.

Publicly, Mr. Abbott has not criticized Mr. DeSantis’s migrant flights from his state. “Every state that desires to assist, I’m completely happy for it,” said Dave Carney, Mr. Abbott’s top campaign strategist.

But privately, the Florida governor’s gambit stung Mr. Abbott’s team. Nobody within the Texas governor’s office was given a heads-up that Mr. DeSantis planned to round up migrants in San Antonio, in accordance with people conversant in the matter.

Mr. Abbott had spent months — and thousands and thousands of state tax dollars — methodically orchestrating a relocation program that, since April, had bused 11,000 migrants to Washington, Latest York and Chicago. Mr. DeSantis’s adaptation was considerably smaller.

However it immediately put the national highlight on Mr. DeSantis, garnering headlines and earning him praise from Republicans and condemnation from Democrats. It also led to an investigation by the sheriff in San Antonio and a lawsuit from migrants who said they’d been lured onto the planes under false pretenses. Mr. DeSantis grabbed the eye of right-wing America, using Mr. Abbott’s tactic, on Mr. Abbott’s turf, to larger and more dramatic effect.

Mr. DeSantis’s instinct for political theater has helped him quickly turn into Republicans’ leading alternative to former President Donald J. Trump. Even Texas Republicans tell pollsters that they like Mr. DeSantis over Mr. Abbott for president in 2024.

The 2 Republican governors have been locked in an increasingly high-stakes contest of one-upmanship, wielding their very own unique brands of conservatism and pushing boundaries through the use of desperate migrants for political gain. In Florida, Mr. DeSantis mused to donors last yr about Mr. Abbott’s good political fortune to share 1,254 miles of border with Mexico and complained that he didn’t have the identical to make use of as a backdrop, in accordance with one person conversant in the conversation.

For all of the bluster, the war between Austin and Tallahassee is decidedly more cold than hot. Yet, the 2 governors’ policy moves antagonizing the Biden administration and the Democratic Party as an entire have been unfolding as an interstate call and response, with national repercussions.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.

In August 2020, Mr. Abbott proposed laws to punish cities in Texas that took funding away from police departments by stopping them from raising more property tax revenue. The next month, Mr. DeSantis went further, saying he would seek to chop state funding from municipalities that defunded the police.

In February of this yr, Mr. Abbott ordered state officials to open child-abuse investigations into medically accepted treatments for transgender youth, including hormones and puberty-suppressing drugs. Last month, Mr. DeSantis said doctors who “disfigure” young individuals with gender-affirming care needs to be sued.

In June 2021, on the primary day of Pride Month, Mr. DeSantis signed a bill into law that barred transgender girls from playing on female sports teams at public schools. Mr. Abbott followed suit with an identical measure that October.

The competition between Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott has more to do with their job descriptions than any personal animosity. Governors elected to steer megastates like Florida and Texas — two of America’s three largest states that accounted for 15 percent of the Republican presidential vote in 2020 — are routinely injected into the national political arena, where they’re sized up and watched closely for signs of White House ambitions.

“Love Florida. Love Texas. Love Florida more,” Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor with deep familial ties to Texas, said when asked in regards to the rivalry between the 2 states.

When Rick Scott was the governor of Florida and Rick Perry was the governor of Texas, the 2 Ricks shared a bromance at the same time as each eyed the White House. From Florida, Mr. Scott spoke glowingly of his counterpart’s record of luring businesses. In Texas, Mr. Perry admired his rival’s refusal to just accept federal stimulus money for railroads or to expand Medicaid.

Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Abbott have lacked such camaraderie. Their brinkmanship has played out against the backdrop of their re-election bids. Each men are searching for additional four-year terms while facing challenges by well-known Democrats in contests that might help determine their presidential aspirations and the direction of the Republican Party for years to return.

“Nobody has ever been elected governor of even a small state who didn’t, somewhere deep of their heart, start dreaming about being president,” said Chris Wilson, a pollster who has worked for each men. “So it’s not shocking to see each Abbott and DeSantis jockeying no less than a little bit toward 2024 or beyond.”

Mr. Abbott is the more institutional politician.

He faced no opposition in his first primary election for attorney general in 2002, and was effectively unopposed contained in the party when he ran to succeed Mr. Perry as governor in 2014. He has worked to keep up ties with business groups, social conservatives and fellow Republican governors. A former Texas Supreme Court justice, he’s a fairly lawyerly governor.

Mr. DeSantis is more instinctual.

He emerged from a six-way Republican primary in his first race for the House of Representatives in 2012. He was viewed as an underdog within the 2018 governor’s primary until he became separated from the pack, due to an endorsement — and constant promotion — from Mr. Trump. A former lawyer for the Navy at Guantánamo Bay, he’s more pugilistic than judicial.

Still, Mr. DeSantis has positioned himself as something of a political loner.

He has eschewed events coordinated by the tight-knit Republican Governors Association. As a substitute of joining a gaggle of current and former Republican governors on the campaign trail this yr to support fellow incumbents, Mr. DeSantis launched into his own victory lap, promoting the migrant flights during campaign stops with Republican candidates for governor in Kansas and Wisconsin. Those events were organized not by the Republican Governors Association, but by Turning Point USA, a gaggle of younger and more provocative conservative activists near Mr. Trump and his family.

In Tallahassee, the migrant flights had been discussed for greater than a yr and had, at one point, centered on relocating the migrants to the Hamptons, the favored Long Island destination for wealthy Latest Yorkers, in accordance with people conversant in the talks. Initially, the proposal caused some division inside Mr. DeSantis’s team.

The contrasting varieties of Mr. Abbott and Mr. DeSantis were on clear display last yr of their handling of high-profile election bills.

When Mr. Abbott signed a recent round of voting restrictions, he traveled to Tyler, the hometown of certainly one of the bill’s chief proponents, and was surrounded by Republican lawmakers, supporters and reporters. When Mr. DeSantis signed his state’s voting restrictions, he, too, was surrounded by fellow Florida Republicans, however the only network that was allowed to cover the event was Fox News, which aired the footage survive its program “Fox & Friends.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a defining moment for each governors.

Mr. DeSantis burnished his conservative bona fides by difficult Covid safety guidelines from public health officials. He lifted pandemic restrictions on businesses in Florida in September 2020, sooner than most governors.

Against this, Mr. Abbott found himself clashing with conservatives over the business restrictions and mask mandate that he had ordered. Some donors confronted Mr. Abbott, expressing their disappointment that he was not following Mr. DeSantis’s lead and suggesting that he could lose re-election if he didn’t move quicker to reopen businesses and return the state to normalcy, in accordance with two Republicans who participated within the meeting.

Mr. Abbott eventually lifted restrictions on businesses in March 2021, months after Mr. DeSantis did.

“Governor Abbott and Governor DeSantis have a solid working relationship, having worked together on various initiatives through Republican governors organizations,” Renae Eze, Mr. Abbott’s press secretary, said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. DeSantis didn’t reply to requests for comment about his relationship with Mr. Abbott and his remark in regards to the border to donors last yr.

Last yr, after the beginning of the Biden administration and as migrants arrived on the border in increasing numbers, Mr. Abbott and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona sought assistance from other states to assist police the border.

Florida sent a big contingent of officers and equipment, including low-water boats that could possibly be used along the Rio Grande in Texas.

Soon after, Mr. DeSantis planned a visit to go to the Florida officers stationed on the border. When members of Mr. Abbott’s office learned in regards to the Florida governor’s trip, they timed a news conference to Mr. DeSantis’s arrival and invited him, in accordance with an individual conversant in the plans.

On the day of the news conference in July 2021, in an airplane hangar in Del Rio, Texas, Mr. DeSantis arrived long before Mr. Abbott. He met with Florida officers and officers from Texas, after which spent an prolonged time frame sitting on a couch within the hangar waiting for Mr. Abbott, who arrived about 10 minutes before the briefing.

The 2 men were wearing similar black button-down shirts with their respective state seals embossed over the left breast pocket (long sleeves for Mr. DeSantis, short sleeves for Mr. Abbott). They took their positions at a table arrange in front of a ship, a plane and a helicopter that had been used to patrol the border. Then they proceeded to stumble over each other in the beginning of the news conference.

“I feel we’re able to go,” Mr. Abbott began.

“OK,” Mr. DeSantis said, looking into the cameras.

“Good,” Mr. Abbott added.

“Well,” Mr. DeSantis said, his right elbow pointing toward the Texas governor seated next to him.

“So,” said Mr. Abbott, looking back at Mr. DeSantis. “Oh. Help kick it off?”

“I just wish to thank ——” Mr. DeSantis said.

“Sure,” Mr. Abbott said.

“Thanks, Greg, for hosting us,” Mr. DeSantis said, turning back to the cameras.

Mr. Abbott invited fellow Republican governors to a different news conference on the border that October. Ten showed up.

Mr. DeSantis was not amongst them.

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