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Move over, Florida. Texas Republicans aren’t going to play second fiddle to anyone when it comes to killing off their own voters for political points. This is a state that will blow you up, freeze you to death in your home, or turn your local mall food court into a free-fire zone if it will let the next Texas conservative print a new bullet point on their campaign flyers. Nothing says “freedom” like a blanket government mandate laid down on every business in the state demanding that not one damn one of them enforce the quickest possible way to end a nationwide pandemic outright.
Much of the resulting commentary has focused around the peculiarity of Abbott posturing as a defender of freedoms while signing some very explicit “limits, restrictions, or requirements” on what Texans can or can’t do, but this has always been Republicanism’s tentpole. “Freedom” means the right to restrict your freedoms; “liberty” means the right to ignore whatever restrictions your neighbors try to place on you.
Objecting to either half of that equation is met with frequent allusions to the Second Amendment and dark intonations that well maybe “put a mask over your snot holes during a health emergency” is the final straw and that if you’re going to press the issue there’s going to need to be a lot of murder around here to set things right. You can’t tell me what to do with my face holes. It’s not a uterus.
If it seems like you’re hearing the same stories over and over, when it comes to vaccines, Texas, Florida, and Republicans, you’re not imagining things. The party has set a stool under this cow and we are going to be here until they’ve extracted every last self-promotional drop. Abbott announced an executive order quite similar to this new law over two months ago, and one that seemed to have some significant legal problems in forcing businesses not to take health precautions.
As for Abbott? Sigh. Just another day in Republicanism as the post-Trump party attempts to find its new Dear Leader, someone who rejects science and booklearnin’ and basic decency toward anyone not in their church group. Whether the new law helps spread the deadly virus even as we seem on the cusp of quashing outbreaks elsewhere is probably less important to Abbott than promoting his signature as press-release response to Florida Man DeSantis’ headline-grabbing anti-vaxxer war against his state’s cruise ship industry. Gotta keep up, after all. Gotta prove you can be as reckless as anyone else.
Again: Just presume everything that either Abbott or DeSantis does is done in service to a desire to move up Republicanism’s ranks. At every lower and higher rank of party hierarchy, presume the same intent. You won’t ever be wrong, and it’s doubly true for anything that involves the public safety of anyone who is Not Them.
If you are the gambling sort, though, you can probably bet your 2024 chips on DeSantis, not Abbott. DeSantis has learned the central lesson of Trumpism, which is that the base craves extremism on the scale that most modern politicians would not dare give them. DeSantis has leapt into that crevasse with no cord attached and no care for where the bottom might be. Abbott, in contrast, seems mostly a copycat. He’ll jump on whatever paranoia you tell him to, but only after other members of his party have already beaten those talking points into the ground.