How Greg Abbott and Under 4 Percent of Texans Are Ruining the State for the Rest of Us

It doesn’t sound like a majority of Texans have enjoyed Republicans’ handling of abortion. Already, we have one of the most restrictive laws in the country — and if Roe falls, we will have a trigger ban that eliminates access completely. When asked if they supported or opposed banning all abortions in the state if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, 54 percent of voters said they were opposed, with 42 percent strongly opposed. As for the constitutional carry law that passed last year — the one that means anyone 21 or older can carry a handgun without a license — a majority of Texans, along with many law enforcement officials, opposed it.

For a stretch last year, more Texans disapproved of Mr. Abbott than approved of him — a rarity since 2015. His rating bounced back this spring, to 47 percent approval vs. 41 percent disapproval. Republicans still like him — as of April, 80 percent approved.

And yet: If the measure of a leader is how he operates in a crisis, Mr. Abbott has failed at every turn — sometimes spectacularly, if such a thing can be said. Some examples: The freeze in February 2021 that officially killed 246 Texans, though the real toll was likely far higher, while donors from energy companies made off like bandits. His antipathy toward vaccination mandates of almost any kind while more than 88,000 Texans died of Covid. His failure to even consider that his stance against abortion in the case of rape would cause what some think of as forced births. No worries: Mr. Abbott said that his administration would “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.”

Who, then, could be surprised when he said about the school shooting in Uvalde that “as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse”?

Such responses are not because of Mr. Abbott’s lack of empathy, as many have suggested. Well, he does seem to be lacking in empathy, but there are other, more salient factors at work. After the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, he did make a feeble attempt at new school safety regulations but soon retreated.

Ultimately, a big reason for this hard-right governing is and has been the base of Republican primary voters. In a state of almost 30 million, roughly 17 million are registered to vote, but only about two million voted in the past two Republican primaries — and those who do vote dependably are older, white and far to the right. In this year’s primary, a Republican candidate could have won the nomination with under 4 percent of voters. So the typical calculus for Republican politicians is this: Keep the far-right voter base happy, and you are a guaranteed winner in Republican-dominated Texas.

This is why Lieutenant Governor Patrick can get away with claiming that arming teachers is the way to prevent school shootings, and why Ted Cruz’s solution to preventing the deaths of schoolchildren is to keep all but one door to school buildings locked, fire marshalls be damned.

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