Jun 8, 2023 - Politics

How Ron DeSantis has outshined Greg Abbott

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Photos: Scott Eisen/Getty Images and Tom Fox/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has become the de facto conservative culture war leader — ahead of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — despite similar priorities and policies.

Driving the news: DeSantis is on a three-day fundraising tour of Texas, with stops in Midland, Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston and Austin.

Why it matters: Texas has long been considered the nation's flagship for conservative policies.

Yes, but: That's not the case anymore. As the 2024 presidential election nears, DeSantis has emerged as the leading Republican challenger to former President Donald Trump, positioning the Sunshine State as the place "where woke goes to die."

The big picture: DeSantis and Abbott have jostled for the title of the nation's most conservative governor, taking turns enacting policies and backing bills that push both states further right.

  • Both governors worked to reopen businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, ban abortion, expand access to guns, transport migrants to Democrat-led cities, and limit diversity policies.
  • DeSantis also answered Abbott's call for help at the border, committing 1,100 National Guard soldiers and law enforcement personnel to Texas.

By the numbers: Both men won re-election campaigns last year, even while Republicans elsewhere struggled. Abbott won by 11 percentage points, while DeSantis won his election by 20.

  • Both Abbott and DeSantis have approval ratings under 50% in their home states.

Zoom in: The biggest difference between them has been in style and rhetoric.

  • Abbott eventually signed into law legislation like the state's "heartbeat bill" abortion ban and "constitutional carry," which allows people to carry handguns without permits or training — but he didn't publicly support the bills until it was clear they'd pass in the Texas House and Senate.

Meanwhile: DeSantis recently said that if he's elected president, he'll "destroy leftism."

  • DeSantis has also publicly battled Disney, one of his state's largest employers. Abbott hasn't done anything equivalent in Texas.

What they're saying: "Abbott's posture in the culture war is much more akin to the old guard establishment wing of the GOP," Luke Macias, a conservative political consultant in Texas, told the Texas Tribune earlier this year.

  • "DeSantis acknowledges the culture war and publicly talks about the need to take on the left."

The intrigue: DeSantis' trip to Texas doesn't include an announced stop in San Antonio, the state's second-largest city, where a sheriff has recommended criminal charges relating to DeSantis flying migrants from there to Martha's Vineyard.

Flashback: Not long ago, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott — now a Republican senator — openly modeled his governing approach on then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Between the lines: Abbott has repeatedly dismissed the idea of a rivalry with DeSantis. In 2021, Abbott said that he and the Florida governor "talk in ways and times that people have no idea about."

The bottom line: The road to the Republican nomination for president still goes through Texas.


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