DeSantis vs. Abbott: How Two GOP Governors Compete for the Conservative Spotlight

Bryan Dijkhuizen

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is no stranger to controversy.

The outspoken Republican has made headlines for his aggressive stance against COVID-19 restrictions, his opposition to critical race theory in schools, his support for anti-riot and anti-vaccine mandate laws, and his frequent clashes with the Biden administration.

DeSantis has also emerged as a potential 2024 presidential contender, positioning himself as the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary. He has cultivated a loyal base of supporters who admire his combative style and his willingness to take on what he calls the woke left.

But DeSantis is not the only GOP governor who has been pursuing a conservative agenda and attracting national attention.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has also been busy implementing policies that appeal to the far right, such as banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, allowing permitless carry of firearms, restricting voting access, and building a border wall with private funds.

Abbott and DeSantis have been in an undeclared competition: Which governor can implement the most legislation that appeals to the far right?

This weekend, DeSantis will bring his culture war to Abbott’s turf, as he headlines two major events for Texas Republicans:

  • The Harris County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner is on Friday.
  • The Dallas County Reagan Day Dinner is on Saturday. The events are expected to draw hundreds of conservative activists, donors, and elected officials who are eager to hear from DeSantis and gauge his presidential prospects.

Abbott is not expected to attend any of the events featuring DeSantis, nor has he publicly commented on his Florida counterpart’s visit. But some observers see a subtle rivalry between the two governors, who have both been praised by Trump but have also faced criticism from some factions of their party.

“DeSantis is trying to show that he’s more conservative than Abbott and that he’s more effective than Abbott,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “He’s trying to appeal to Texas Republicans who may be dissatisfied with Abbott or who may be looking for a fresh face in 2024.”

Jones said that while both governors have similar policy positions on most issues, DeSantis has been more proactive and vocal in advancing them.

He said that DeSantis has also benefited from being in a state that is more favorable to Republicans than Texas, where Democrats have made gains in recent elections.

“DeSantis can afford to be more extreme because he doesn’t have to worry about losing votes in the middle,” Jones said. “Abbott has to balance between appeasing his base and not alienating moderate voters.”

But Jones added that Abbott still enjoys strong support among Texas Republicans and that DeSantis faces some challenges of his own, such as rising COVID-19 cases and deaths in Florida and potential legal battles over some of his policies.

“DeSantis is not invincible,” Jones said. “He has some vulnerabilities that could hurt him down the road.”

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said that both governors are engaging in culture wars issues to increase their popularity among right-wing voters and position themselves for higher office.

“They’re both trying to out-Trump each other,” Hinojosa said. “They’re both pandering to the extremist base of their party at the expense of public health, public safety and public education.”

Hinojosa said that Democrats will hold both governors accountable for their actions and offer a better alternative for voters.

“We’re going to expose them for what they are: reckless leaders who don’t care about Texans or Floridians,” Hinojosa said.

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