After a summer surge that devastated the state’s plans to cut back on restrictions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tried to put his state back on the reopening track. In late August, he hinted at new reopening plans being on the way before rolling out an executive order in September that boosted the capacity allowed in places like restaurants and shops. And last week Abbott took action on bars in the state, which he had ordered closed back in late June amid the surge, saying the venues could soon reopen at as high as 50 percent capacity in most places if their county’s judge agreed to the move.
But none of that has stopped some key figures in Abbott’s own party from picking him apart after the Texas Republican Party faithful on the state’s Republican Executive Committee called last month to see the state fully reopened from his measures.
Stephen Broden, a member of the committee who is also a pastor, said he was “disappointed” in Abbott and “disgusted with his methodology and his approach.”
And Ruth Cremin, who serves as the party’s executive committeewoman in Senate District 24 went even further, saying the government overreach is ruining the state and that Abbott is “not acting at all like a Republican.”
“I wouldn't vote for him to be anything at this point,” she said.
Last weekend the chairman of the state GOP made clear at a rally near the governor’s mansion in Austin that the party wanted more from their chief executive.
Speaking to the attendees, Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West read through a resolution that he said had been passed overwhelmingly by the state's GOP executive committee on Sept. 19 that called on Abbott to “immediately rescind all COVID-related mandates, closures and restrictions to open Texas now.”
As he started speaking, some in the crowd chanted “West for Governor,” though the chairman downplayed the show of enthusiasm, according to a YouTube video of his comments posted by the state party.
West, the former Florida congressman who rode into office on the 2010 Tea Party wave and only went on to serve one term, now heads the Texas Republican Party at a time when Democrats in the state are eager to try and flip the state blue in the presidential election and wrestle back control of the Texas House. But last Saturday, less than four weeks out from election day and days before early voting started, West was instead scolding one of the leading members of his own party. Abbott is not on the ballot this cycle.
“I want you to leave here today and understand one simple thing,” West told the audience. “Government is not in existence to protect your health. Government is in existence to protect your rights... so we call upon the governor to do what is right for the people of the great state of Texas, so that Texas can continue to be a leader.”
Abbott has been no stranger to attacks from within his own party recently, according to The Texas Tribune, with the state’s GOP agriculture commissioner also joining in at the event to say “quite frankly, governor, your cure is worse than the disease,” according to the news organization.
Neither a spokesman for Abbott or the state party responded to an email seeking comment for this story. But if the state fully reopened in the way some Republicans in Texas would like, the consequences could be dire as the spread of the coronavirus continues with no clear timeline on when a vaccine will be made available.
Even though Texas has fallen from its summer highpoint, the state still “has a large number of cases,” said Shelley Payne, the director of LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Texas at Austin, and is “still at a level that is much too high to just pull out all the stops and reopen.”
“This is a disease that kills,” Payne said. “And we can't just close our eyes to that, completely reopen and hope for the best.”
Abbott is among the Republican governors during the coronavirus pandemic that have continued to find themselves caught between the whims of their own party, while also trying to respond to the public health crisis.
“If Abbott is too progressive for these people, they must be living in a parallel universe,” said Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “Abbott is the most conservative governor Texas has ever had.”
And if there’s a safe harbor for Abbott, he hasn’t appeared to find it between Democratic criticism earlier this summer and the Republican attacks that have continued this fall.
“Texas is the only state where both chairs for both parties are continuously attacking the sitting governor,” Hinojosa told The Daily Beast.
And that’s where Abbott finds himself these days as some GOP members also can’t shake the thought that Abbott is going against their party’s principles, as well as not working with the legislature and instead making policy on his own.
Among his inter party critics is Warren Norred, a member of the state Republican executive committee who has decried how the governor’s policies have hurt businesses.
“We're not happy with this approach. We find it cowardly and spineless. It's not leadership. It's not what we signed on to support,” said Norred, who is also an attorney in multiple lawsuits against the state, the governor and state agencies over pandemic orders.
Abbott was faced with seeing Texas through a surge of coronavirus cases over the summer that torched the state’s reopening plans in late June. That caused the bar shutdowns at that time and a mask mandate from the governor, though the ability to be exempt was included for some counties in the state.
The governor has also drawn the ire of his party in other public ways. Both West and the state’s GOP agriculture commissioner were among the Republicans in the state who signed onto a lawsuit against a decision from Abbott whose office announced in a July press release that he was “extending the early voting period for the November 3rd Election by nearly a week.”
Abbott has also done plenty to enrage Democrats during the pandemic, including when he caused backlash from Democrats earlier this month by moving to ban counties from having more than one place where voters could hand in their mail-in ballots in person. And in July a pair of Democrats were searing in their criticism to The Daily Beast when it came to Abbott as he rejected pleas to allow local officials the power to make their own stay at home orders as the virus raged through their communities.
Despite the vocal callouts some Republicans have been willing to make about Abbott, Britton Brooks, the GOP executive committeeman in the state’s 30th Senate district, defended both Abbott and the party. Even though Brooks said he voted for the resolution calling the governor out last month, Brooks said this week that he thought “it is time and appropriate to open Texas, and I think the governor is making great strides in that direction.”
“I am and always will be a Gov. Abbott supporter,” Brooks said.
Others like Jill Glover, the state GOP’s executive committeewoman in Senate District 12, believe Abbott has violated the state’s constitution and is skipping over Republican principles.
“I think there is anger at our governor. By and large I think, probably a majority of Republicans are not happy with the governor’s overreach,” Glover said.
But Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a Democrat, gave Abbott some credit for not giving into the members of his party who are calling for a full reopening.
“I admire Abbott for standing up to the right-wing, unreasonable part of the Republican party,” Wolff said. “I know that's been hard for him.”