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Greg Abbott has no one to blame but himself

Let’s be very clear about this.

Gov. Greg Abbott is under increasing political fire from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats as he responds to a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths — a record 112 on Wednesday and 106 on Thursday — by implementing more restrictions on Texans and increasingly warning of another shutdown if people fail to wear masks.

Prominent Democrats are blasting Abbott for reopening too quickly and shrugging off early warning signs. On the other side, county Republican Party committees are passing censures of Abbott for some of his latest orders, including one requiring people to wear masks in counties reporting at least 20 people infected with COVID-19. Those who violate the order face $250 fines, but no possibility of jail time.

On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted 40-0 to censure Abbott, joining at least three other county executive committees that have taken similar steps.

Even Republican state lawmakers are beginning to press Abbott to call a special session to cede some of the decision-making to them. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said in a Fox News Channel interview that it’s time for the Legislature to be more involved and not just leave it all up to the governor.

“We have information and a lot of misinformation out there, honestly, that needs to be vetted by a legislative body,” Perry said.

It’s all coming as Abbott warns the daily number of deaths is going to keep rising.

“I think the numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week,” Abbott told Fox 26 in Houston during an interview Thursday night. “We need to make sure there are going to be plenty of hospital beds available in the Houston area.”

[…]

The criticism from Democrats comes days after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that she and other county and city officials need Abbott to give them the authority to issue stay-at-home orders again, calling it the surest way for them to get out of the crisis. She said leaders need to be taking bold aggressive steps because of how serious things have become in Houston and Texas overall. Abbott has so far declined.

“We don’t have room to experiment,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t have room for incrementalism, when we’re seeing these kinds of numbers, nor should we wait for all the hospital beds to fill and all these people to die before we take drastic action.”

I have many thoughts about this.

– The original sin in all this, from whence all other bad decisions and unenforceable actions flow, was the inexcusable, unfathomable, and completely self-inflicted Shelley Luther saga, which the Chron’s editorial board correctly identifies as a primary failing. It’s not just that Abbott took the teeth out of his own executive orders the very first time they ran into resistance, taking Luther off the hook like that – hell, turning her into a goddam folk hero, paying her court fees, bowing and scraping to her – it’s that this sent a very clear message that there are no consequences for violating any laws or orders related to coronavirus. You can draw a straight line from this to sheriffs saying they can’t or won’t enforce the current mask order, even as Abbott is now practically begging everyone to wear a mask. Turns out undermining the rule of law is a bad idea. Who knew?

– The problem with the Shelley Luther incident wasn’t just the undermining of the rule of law, or the evisceration of any consequences for pro-COVID behavior. It was the message it sent, from the top, that the people who didn’t feel like doing their part to fight the virus, who felt that their feelings and personal definition of “liberty” mattered more than anything else, were legitimate and needed to be handled as special and exceptional. Abbott could have very reasonably expressed empathy for Shelley Luther, said words to the effect of “I know this is hard, I know small businesspeople like her are suffering, but we have to bear down and really beat this virus back so that we can get back to normal life and business like we all want”. The fact that he didn’t is a clear and ongoing failure of leadership on his part.

– Yes, I know, that same message about “my feelings are bigger than your face mask” as well as pressure to “reopen the economy” came from Donald Trump as well, and Abbott had to be concerned about the heat he was getting from his fellow Republicans. I will note that other Republican governors, like Mike DeWine in Ohio, managed to figure this out. No one ever said that being Governor was going to be easy. If Greg Abbott didn’t have the fortitude to withstand the carping from the Steven Hotze wing of his party, then he has no business being Governor.

– Another self-inflicted wound in all this has been Abbott’s abrogation of the executive powers that Mayors and County Judges had exercised in the early days of the pandemic. Remember when cities and counties were issuing stay-at-home orders, and Abbott used that as justification for him not doing the same statewide because different counties have different needs? Abbott eventually and correctly bowed to pressure to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, but in doing so he basically took away all of the local decision-making power that Mayors and County Judges had. That has come back to bite him, as the big urban counties have been complaining for weeks about their need to respond to local conditions. The capper to this was the utterly ludicrous “you solved my riddle”, in which Abbott revealed that County Judges had the power all along to order businesses to require masks for their employees and customers, but he wasn’t going to tell them that, they had to figure that out on their own even though they had been loudly saying that getting more people to wear masks was the main thing they could do to help with the pandemic. Letting local authorities have more power to make local decisions was not only the better call for fighting the virus, it would have shifted a lot of the heat Abbott now feels from him to them, with “them” mostly being Democrats. When Abbott took their power away back in April, it was seen as him coming in to take credit for their work. Too bad for him that work wasn’t finished, because it’s all on him now.

– Let’s also not forget the fact that when Abbott announced his intent to reopen, he announced four criteria that were supposed to guide the reopening timeline. Those were declining case rates, declining positive test rates, enough contact tracers, and sufficient hospital capacity. Only that last one was ever met, and because the other three were completely ignored, the hospitals are now overwhelmed. A more far-sighted leader would have counseled patience, saying we need to reach these benchmarks before we get to do the things we want to do. But as established, Abbott isn’t a leader at all, and so here we are.

– Finally, and I have said this before as well, I do agree that at some point Abbott should have called a special session, partly to clarify his own executive powers and thus blunt some of the lawsuits that have been filed over stay-at-home and face mask orders, and partly to share the responsibility with the legislative body. Abbott has repeatedly shown that he likes to operate in a bubble, where he does his thing and no one gets to ask him any questions unless they’ve been pre-approved and invited to do so. I get that hating on the mainstream media is a standard part of the Republican playbook, but I think Abbott’s self-imposed isolation isn’t serving him well simply because he’s not hearing from anyone who isn’t in his inner circle. The Lege can serve as a foil, or at least a partner in taking the blame, but not when you’re a one-man show.

Every step of the way, Greg Abbott could have made better decisions. It was clear at the time he was making those decisions that he was choosing poorly. Now we are all facing the consequences of those bad decisions. Greg Abbott bears the responsibility for what happened. Never forget that.

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8 Comments

  1. Wolfgang says:

    This analysis is spot-on! The only thing I would add is the role of his fellow-Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court as enablers.

    It’s like the AG presses a button, and he gets instant relief.

    Remember when the Harris County misdemeanor judges sued Abbott over the Make-Jail-a-Virus-Hotbed order? (EO 13-dated March 29, 2020). The Supremes went out of their way to issue an opinion against the judges on a Thursday (Friday is the regular SCOTX opinion and order release day) to make sure to get their pro-Abbott ruling out before the TRO granted in the judges’ favor would expire the next day. In re Abbott, No. 20-0291, 63 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 909, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 351 (Apr. 23, 2020)(dismissing judges’ challenge to Governor’s executive order based on lack of standing).

    Same genus of preferential treatment was bestowed on Shelley Luther and her Republican attorney. In the first case – the A la Mode mandamus, for which there was not even a jurisdictional basis, 4 of the Supremes regaled Luther’s lawyer with an advisory opinion concurring in denial, which the Republican Party is now citing as supreme court “authority” in their legal action against the Houston First and the Mayor over their state convention at GRB. In re Salon A La Mode, No. 20-0340, 63 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1123, 2020 Tex. LEXIS 389 (Tex. May 5, 2020).

    In her habeas corpus case (No. 20-0363) the Supremes ordered Luther released on personal bond instanter without giving a reason, thereby endorsing Abbott’s knee-jerky policy-reversal. They still have not bothered to explain what was wrong with holding Luther in civil and criminal contempt for defying the temporary restraining order (TRO) against her. Her attorney only offered formalistic arguments about the trial court order at first (not specific enough, etc.), but has since supplemented the briefing to change the theory of the case by advancing constitutional arguments not first presented to the trial court. The SCOTX granted leave for that. BTW, she did not actually have to post money for bond; and whether she has to pay the fine for civil contempt remains to be seen. Meanwhile, she is $500,000 richer thanks to the gofundme campaign launched for the benefit of this heroine of COVID-19 mitigation order defiance.

    — Rule of law as custom-made for me, not for thee.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    “It’s like the AG presses a button, and he gets instant relief. ”

    “— Rule of law as custom-made for me, not for thee.”

    Whoa! It’s like we’re having flashbacks from the Obama administration. Sucks when Abbott has a wingman, too, doesn’t it?

  3. SocraticGadfly says:

    AND? On COVID, it’s like Abbott can’t even extend personal sympathy in his thinking, as he is arguably himself in a higher risk population, and of course, i’m not talking age. No matter what he gets in the way of physical therapy, etc., he’s still in a higher-risk population.

  4. Brad says:

    Bill,

    Which one is the wing man? Tweedledee or Tweedledum?

  5. mollusk says:

    Personal sympathy and empathy appear to be actively discouraged by some of our brethren and sistren as a weakness.

  6. Wolfgang says:

    The Sistren Renaissance

    It used to be that you could just diss them as the Brethren (also a Grisham title), then the fairer sex made inroads on the benches more and more. As someone who spent many years in the academic world, fully-sensitized to gender neutrality, I was in a quandry. What do you call them-all, when the object of sophisticated scorn wasn’t just the male majority?

    So my formulation in the fine genre of supreme body work product critique became “6 brethren and 3 lady justices” (the count reflecting the current composition)

    Sistren is the solution!

    Alas, I was completely unawares of this jewel of a word fossil, faint recollections of Bard and Canterbury Tale seminars in college notwithstanding.

    So thank you so much for piquing my interest, mollusk. I looked it up, and voila:

    We have the feminsits to thank for the revival:

    “Sistren … had fallen completely out of use by the middle of the 16th century. It has recently been revived, typically by feminist writers, with the new meaning ‘fellow women’ …. This use is not yet well established in standard English.”

  7. mollusk says:

    I live to serve.

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