During the initial COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, Governor Greg Abbott fought the pandemic with strict measures, which included limiting capacity in some businesses, closing high-risk venues, and implementing mask mandates.
However, Abbott’s approach to the pandemic started changing as GOP challengers started referring to him as “not conservative enough” or “Republican in name only” commonly known as RINO.
We don’t have a Donald Trump as governor, we don’t have a Ron DeSantis as governor, we don’t have a William B. Travis as governor. Unfortunately, we’ve got a career politician that’s a political windsock, a RINO.” said state Senator Don Huffines, who plans to run for Abbott’s seat.
As reported by the New York Times, the governor’s initial restrictions on business and other aspects of daily life early in the pandemic caused a backlash among grass-roots conservatives who resent government interference and who also form the core of the Republican primary electorate.
Against the CDC recommendations, Mr. Abbott then lifted every mandate this March, claiming the majority of Texans would be vaccinated by then.
However, the Delta variant coupled with the lack of measures caused a massive increase both in COVID-19 cases and COVID-related deaths; more than 12,000 new cases a day on average, a 134 percent increase within the last two weeks, and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations, according to the New York Times database.
And in spite of having only 44 percent of Texans fully vaccinated, the governor issued an executive order prohibiting local authorities from implementing mask mandates, including for students who are about to return to school.
This move has faced overwhelming backlash, as public health experts fear unprecedented case surges and hospital collapses.
“It’s definitely playing toward the Republican primary voters,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, referring to the governor’s strategy, noting that Mr. Abbott’s goal is to win overwhelmingly in the 2022 Republican primary.
In response to the governor’s ease of measures in the COVID-19 spike, government authorities including Nelson Wolff, the judge of Bexar County, and Mayor Sylvester Turner in Houston have been challenging his orders.” I’m not trying to be defiant,” said Mayor Turner, “I’m just trying to protect the people who pick up the trash in this city, people who are police officers, people who are firefighters, EMS workers.”