This NY Times piece doesn't reflect well on our governor.
He was the state’s first new governor in 14 years, following the record-breaking tenure of Rick Perry. He was the first governor to use a wheelchair, and the first lawyer turned governor in three decades. His wife, Cecilia, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, became the state’s first Hispanic first lady.
But none of that has defined his tenure more than his role as the first governor of Trump-era Texas, heading a Republican Party buffeted by gale-force winds from the right in a state far more chaotic, divided and unsteady than its Obama-era version.
By almost any measure, Mr. Abbott, 59, has been a staunchly conservative voice in Texas politics. But now he is struggling to steer the state through one of its most tumultuous political moments in decades, as Republican factions engage in open warfare.
Pro-business Republicans clashed with social conservatives. The State House clashed with the State Senate. The Texas Association of Business clashed with the Tea Party. White Republican lawmakers clashed with Hispanic Democratic legislators in the Capitol’s House chamber, cursing, shoving and threatening one another. And 28 months into his term, Mr. Abbott is facing a fundamental question: How conservative is conservative enough for the governor of a state that defines the right in America as much as California defines the left?
At least part of Mr. Abbott’s problem appears to be that he has yet to come up with an answer, allowing the cacophony of ideologies on the right and far right to answer for him.
“Why is he so hands-off?” asked Julie McCarty, the president of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party in the Fort Worth area. “Is that what his dream was, to become governor of the greatest state in the nation so that he could sit out on everything?”
Mr. Abbott has faced challenges more daunting than reconciling feuding Republicans. Almost 33 years ago, in July 1984, when he was a 26-year-old law school graduate studying for the bar in Houston, he took a break to go for a jog with a friend. A large oak tree collapsed on his back, leaving him paralyzed below the waist and in need of a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He said that the accident had put the demands of his job in its proper context.
“It was actually just yesterday someone asked me, ‘How is it that you can stay so calm with everything going on in the Capitol?’” Mr. Abbott said during a recent interview. “And the answer is simple. And that is, when you have your life broken in half and realize that you’re going to be able to piece your life back together and overcome that, everything else in life is pretty easy to deal with.”
Still, few regard the current political climate in Texas as easy.
Mr. Abbott not only had trouble getting the Republicans who run Texas on the same page, he also had a hard time just getting them together for breakfast. Relations between two top Republicans — the arch-conservative lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, and the moderate House speaker, Joe Straus III — soured to the point that the final series of weekly breakfasts held by the most powerful officials in the state was quietly canceled, a temporary fizzling-out of a decades-old tradition.
Internal party disputes between establishment Republicans and social conservatives are nothing new to Texas, and became more pronounced after the Tea Party-backed rise of Senator Ted Cruz. But now, the hostility and the stakes are significantly higher. The bitter public feud between Mr. Patrick and Mr. Straus over Mr. Patrick’s push to pass bathroom restrictions, like those in North Carolina, for transgender people led to a legislative stalemate that put the operation of some state agencies in limbo.
Mr. Abbott has been criticized from all sides — for both pushing Texas too far to the far right and for not pushing it far enough, and for adopting a less-is-more management style at a time of political turmoil.
Social conservatives say Mr. Abbott has been disengaged in their battles, including the effort to pass a bathroom bill. Moderate Republicans say he has capitulated to the far right. Democrats and Hispanic groups say the bill he signed banning so-called sanctuary cities was unconstitutional and anti-Latino. And he has been fighting a public perception that Mr. Patrick — the firebrand conservative who was the Texas chairman of President Trump’s campaign — calls the shots in Austin.
“I don’t think Patrick’s in charge, but I think he has seized the microphone,” said Harvey Kronberg, the publisher of The Quorum Report, an online Texas political journal. “There’s no sense of coordination coming out of the governor’s office, so it’s left a vacuum that we haven’t seen since the days of Ann Richards, who became isolated for a variety of reasons. Abbott has not learned how to exercise his power.”
In the coming days, Mr. Abbott faces a crucial test.
The legislative session ended on Memorial Day, but Mr. Abbott will decide whether to call lawmakers back for a special session, something only the governor has the authority to do. Mr. Patrick has called on Mr. Abbott to put a bathroom bill on the agenda. If Mr. Abbott does not, he will upset Mr. Patrick and Mr. Patrick’s far-right supporters. If he does, he will please social conservatives but play into the narrative that he is, in effect, following the lead of Mr. Patrick.
It was Mr. Patrick, gavel in hand, who appeared on the February cover of Texas Monthly, which called him “the most influential person in Texas politics.”
Then, in late April, Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative leader, sent an email to supporters at 4:20 a.m., longing for the days of Mr. Perry and writing “Where’s the Governor?” in the subject line. Weeks later, in The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Jay Leeson, a columnist and talk-radio co-host, quoted an unnamed Republican lawmaker who said the state was being “run by Governor Hodge,” a reference to Mr. Abbott’s chief of staff, Daniel Hodge.
Mr. Abbott shows no sign of being either under pressure or under attack. In the interview in his office on the second-floor of the Capitol, he was at ease and engaging, and he expressed confidence in his steady hand at the helm of the country’s second-most-populous state. The only indication of turmoil came from the wall-size painting of the siege of the Alamo to his right.
Asked about the political chatter that he was bothered by the Texas Monthly cover, Mr. Abbott replied, “With all due respect, with regard to any media story, I could care less.” He added, “My focus is on the people of Texas, and I could care less what any story writes.”
But whether he or Mr. Patrick is calling the shots, the constituency they are courting is all on the right.
“The body politic has become more conservative,” Mr. Abbott said. “I have been in politics as an elected official since 1992, so I’ve been familiar with the body politic, with the people of the state of Texas at the ground level, for decades now. And it’s very palpable that the people in the state of Texas are more conservative than they were decades ago when I first got elected, and the conservatives are more organized.”
Mr. Abbott’s behind-the-scenes work ethic is the stuff of legend.
He read every bill sent to his desk in the 2015 legislative session — all 1,300 of them. Last year, he suffered third-degree burns on his feet and shin from a hot shower while vacationing in Wyoming, but he rushed to Dallas, in pain and against the advice of doctors, after a gunman there had killed five police officers at a demonstration. About 20 hours after being burned in Wyoming, he attended a news conference in Dallas with local officials.
But his tendency to pull away from the spotlight has worked against him, too. Mr. Abbott made a remark at a gun range in Austin last month that some interpreted as a joke about shooting reporters. In fact, he seemed to be indicating that his bullet-ridden target was proof of his good aim, and that he would carry the target around to show any skeptical reporters. But he never clarified what he meant or commented about it publicly, allowing a misperception that he is hostile to reporters to thrive on social media.
Another perception that lingers in Austin is that Mr. Patrick plans to run against Mr. Abbott in 2018. Mr. Patrick and those close to him have repeatedly denied the rumors, but the speculation persists that Mr. Patrick is more a rival to Mr. Abbott than a colleague.
Mr. Abbott said he had a positive working relationship with Mr. Patrick and shared many of his views, but dismissed any notion that Mr. Patrick was setting the agenda in Texas.
“The governor’s job is far bigger than just a legislative session,” Mr. Abbott said. “Most of my time is devoted to being the C.E.O. of Texas, not being involved in a legislative session.”