With Trump's 2024 Campaign Uncertain, Greg Abbott Looks Beyond Texas

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced plans for a crowdfunded Texas border wall to be jumpstarted with a $250 million infusion from the state budget, it was clear that he was taking aim at a perceived weakness by the Biden administration on immigration.

But to many Republicans and political observers, the latest salvo in Abbott's gubernatorial reelection campaign was also an unmistakable public signal that with uncertainty surrounding another Trump run, Abbott has clear presidential aspirations of his own.

The moves thus far have involved beefing up the team around the governor, but with an eye on early primary contests.

Abbott's team members reached out to at least one Republican strategist in Iowa to consult on the governor's race from afar, with the idea being that they would then have someone already in place in Iowa in the future, Newsweek has learned. The operative declined a request to confirm the outreach because they weren't "interested in helping the media."

Andrew Hemming, the former rapid response director for the Trump administration and director of research for the 2016 Trump campaign, also moved to Texas and has been consulting on the reelection campaign, a move which Republican operatives followed with interest.

"That to me makes it clear he's gearing up for a presidential run," Bryan Lanza, a former Trump campaign official told Newsweek. "Andy doesn't need to work, he could consult the campaign from afar, but he literally moved to Texas."

On the topic of Iowa outreach, Lanza said "Abbott's folks are reaching out to people he knows."

In addition to the wall announcement, Abbott last week called a special session of the Texas legislature slated for July 8 to again push for a restrictive voting law that Democrats temporarily delayed by walking out last month.

The focus on pushing through his priorities, and those of the former president, has reminded those in his party of the influence the governor of Texas, stewarding one of the largest economies in the world, has always had on the Republican Party.

"Whoever is the governor of Texas is always going to be a frontrunner," said Artemio Muniz, the chair of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans.

He argued that Abbott has stepped in where Democrats have left a vacuum through Biden policies and Vice President Kamala Harris' delay in visiting the border.

Abbott's campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment. John Wittman, his former communications director, told Newsweek possible presidential ambitions are "a question that really only Greg Abbott can answer."

Still, Wittman sketched the importance of Abbott's role nationally within the party.

"He's governor of the largest Republican state in the union and governor of the state with the longest border, more than Arizona and California," Wittman told Newsweek. "Texas has always been a leader, and Abbott is showing that."

Many previews of the 2024 Republican landscape have included a different governor as a frontrunner, however, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gleefully engaging in hot-button culture war issues such as what universities are teaching and an "anti-riot" law, which increases law enforcement's ability to crack down on protests.

Just last week DeSantis signed a law that would survey state colleges and universities annually on the "extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented" and whether faculty, students, and staff "feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom," according to the legislation.

Such moves, including the passing of Florida's own law to limit voting, have thrilled many conservatives and chilled Democrats worried about an ascension of DeSantis to national prominence.

"The only thing standing between Ron DeSantis and the GOP nomination in 2024 is Donald Trump," Florida-based Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi told Newsweek, "but first he has to win re-election in Florida."

He argued that his gubernatorial race is actually two in one.

"If he loses he could be knocked out of the presidential sweepstakes," Amandi said. "But if he wins its could add rocket fuel to his frontrunner status."

A Trump ally who has visited with the former president at Mar-a-Lago since the election said DeSantis is a frontrunner, and that while Abbott has made "good moves lately" he was "terrible" during the pandemic lockdown, likening him to Democratic governors who "didn't have the guts of DeSantis" in quickly opening up their states.

"Right now it's Trump or DeSantis as far as I can tell," the source said, adding that "a lot can change, but I don't think there's one other viable candidate."

For both Abbott and DeSantis there is an elephant in the room but one everyone openly speaks about, and that's Trump, who has said he may run again.

That could lead others with bright futures to look to avoid getting bloodied. A Politico article Monday quoted a GOP consultant close to DeSantis who said the governor is "very wary" of eliciting the former president's rage.

"I don't see DeSantis getting in if Trump's running," the source who has spoken with Trump told Newsweek. "He's a young guy, there's no reason to make all those problems for himself and make enemies."

Even before the border fight, Abbott and Biden clashed on COVID-19-related policy efforts to open up Texas. When Texas and Mississippi ended mask mandates in March, Biden called it "Neanderthal thinking."

Lanza called Abbott a "Tier 1" candidate in a strong position to run because of the donor money available in Texas and his leadership.

"He handled the pandemic really well and took on Biden on opening up the economy," he said. "Biden called them 'Neanderthals,' but then infection and death rates dropped after that."

Still, Lanza remembers having dreams of being in line to be a senior member of George Allen's presidential team in 2005 before his brief frontrunner status evaporated.

"I caution the Abbott's and DeSantis' of the world to not look too far down the football field, of having presidential ambitions and watching them get derailed," he said.

A March 2006 Roll Call column posited that Allen lost because he was too closely tied to George W. Bush's legacy, which Republicans tying themselves to Trump don't foresee as a problem with Trumpism still thriving in the party.

But the column also mentioned other reasons for Allen's fall from frontrunner to forgotten.

"Allen's performance on Tim Russert's Sunday morning program was maddeningly mediocre," the column declared, as "he was seriously outshined by Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden."

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US President Donald Trump shake hands with Texas Governor Greg Abbott as he steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Texas, on April 10, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images/Jim WATSON / AFP