Texas Governor Greg Abbott Endorses Trump

Signaling that the border will be a focus for the 45th president as he seeks to win back his old job

By Andrew R. Arthur on November 24, 2023

During a visit to the Texas border town of Edinburg this week, former President Donald Trump picked up the endorsement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for president in the 2024 election. That endorsement likely came as a blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R)—Trump’s main rivals for the GOP presidential nomination—but more importantly, it signals where the 45th president will be placing his campaign’s focus as he attempts to reclaim his old job: on immigration and border security, winning issues for Trump during his 2016 campaign, but ones that were largely shelved during his losing 2020 reelection bid.

Abbott—The GOP’s ‘Primary Point Man’ on Immigration Enforcement

The first Republican primary vote won’t be cast until January 15, when the party holds its Iowa caucuses (followed eight days later by the New Hampshire primary), and Texas Republicans aren’t set to head to the polls until the March 5 “Super Tuesday” elections. So why did Trump solicit Abbott’s endorsement now?

Because immigration enforcement is the issue Trump wants—if not needs—to get out in front of now, if for no other reason than to separate himself from DeSantis and Haley in Iowa and New Hampshire. And the Texas governor has been the party’s primary point man on that issue since Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

Texas troopers sent to the border under Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star” have been supplementing the beleaguered Border Patrol agents there, who have been so overwhelmed rounding-up, transporting, processing, and cutting loose millions of illegal entrants coming to take advantage of Biden’s release policies that they’ve been unable to stop the flow of drugs, criminals, and (possibly) terrorists into the country.

And the state has largely taken the lead in filing suits in federal court to shut down the administration’s extra-statutory immigration policies.

DeSantis’ Florida has scored the biggest of those victories (to date), when the state’s attorney general successfully blocked the administration from releasing illegal entrants on parole (in Florida v. U.S. and then in Florida v. Mayorkas, both in effect while the administration pursues circuit court appeal), but in terms of quantity of lawsuits, Texas leads the pack.

And of course, Abbott almost single-handedly brought national media attention to the ongoing border disaster when he started busing illegal migrants who had been released by DHS into small border-adjacent communities in his state to Washington, D.C. and New York City (among other destinations), starting in April 2022.

Politicians seeking to align themselves with an elected official who epitomizes border security in an age of utter immigration lawlessness should start looking in the governor’s office in Austin. When it comes to the border and illegal immigration, Abbott is the polar opposite of the president.

And Biden knows as much, which is why his DOJ is suing the governor under (of all statutes) the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 to force Texas to remove floating river barriers impeding illicit transit across the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. Biden had a brief victory on that argument, before a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit (including two judges appointed by Democratic presidents) stayed a district-court preliminary injunction that would have required the state to remove the barriers.

It's also why a left-leaning, Biden-friendly media constantly harps on Operation Lone Star, deriding it as “inhumane” and “expensive”, while alleging that the state’s claims about its effectiveness are “incomplete and sometimes misleading”.

Regardless, it must be popular: Lone Star is one of the governor’s signature initiatives, and Abbott cruised to reelection in 2022, beating his opponent, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D)—who himself termed the operation “dangerous, illegal and ineffective” in the New York Times in July—by nearly 11 points last November.

‘Democrats’ Border Problem Is Getting Real’

It makes sense that Trump would want to get the early edge on immigration and border security-- not only with his primary opponents but in a general election match-up with Biden himself. “Immigration” is Biden’s worst-polling issue with voters—and given the state of the U.S. economy, that’s saying something.

If you don’t trust me, take a look at a November 21 analysis in the (hardly Trump-friendly) Washington Post by staff writer Aaron Blake, headlined “Democrats’ border problem is getting real”.

Blake’s not warning about the lethal drugs that are pouring over the increasingly undefended Southwest border, or the national-security vulnerabilities the administration has created there. Instead, his focus is on the threat that the border crisis poses to Democrats’ electoral prospects. It begins:

Panicky Democrats don’t need anything else to fret about ahead of the 2024 election. But high on the list of things that probably should register for them right now is the southern border.

That’s because the pro-immigration moment that Donald Trump rather unwittingly ushered in appears to be coming to a close. Even the Democratic base is concerned.

Respectfully, the “Democratic base” should be concerned. But then, the rest of the electorate and even non-voting Americans should be a bit “panicky” about what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico line, too. To quote John McClane (Bruce Willis) in my favorite holiday movie, “Die Hard”: “Welcome to the party, pal.”

The Missing Issue in the Last Election

The question isn’t why Trump is leaning so hard into immigration and border security now—it’s why he didn’t highlight those issues in the last election, because they were proven winners for him.

In September 2017, the website FiveThirtyEight concluded that “Trump's Hardline Immigration Stance Got Him to the White House”. Among its findings was that “immigration tends to be an issue that is more important to Republicans than Democrats”.

Perhaps because Trump didn’t have any serious primary opponents in 2020, and/or because outlets like the Post painted any enforcement under his watch in the worst possible terms (take a look at a June 2018 Post article captioned “A firsthand look at the horrors of immigration detention” to get a taste), the then-incumbent didn’t feel a need or desire to highlight his immigration and border policies.

Not that Biden made a big deal out of his immigration plans if he won, either. Aside from allegations that Trump “separated” migrant kids (the only immigration topic in the 2020 general election debates, aside from a brief interlude into the supposedly large number of deportations under the Obama-Biden administration), “lost” them, or put them in “cages”, immigration was largely a non-issue in the last election.

If a candidate doesn’t control the narrative, the narrative will control the candidate,

This isn’t simple “Monday morning quarterbacking”, or one pundit’s opinion—my colleague David Seminara asked “Why Has the Trump Campaign Gone Quiet on Immigration?” two weeks prior to the last election. If you read it now, it smacks of lost opportunities for an incumbent who lost the key battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by fractions of the total votes cast.

Had Joe Biden not been elected and eviscerated the border security Trump created while making a mockery of Congress’ green-card limits, immigration likely wouldn’t be the vulnerability for Democrats the Post describes. But he was elected, creating a winning issue for any Republican savvy enough to promise enforcement. As the Abbott endorsement reveals, Trump hopes he can be that Republican.