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Will Greg Abbott run for president?

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Emree Weaver for KUT
Whether or not Gov. Greg Abbott runs for president, the speculation and the attention he gets only further raises his profile, says Joshua Blank, the director of research for UT Austin's Texas Politics Project.

After a decisive re-election win, you might expect to see Gov. Greg Abbott gearing up to run for president in 2024, like Rick Perry and George W. Bush before him. For the past four decades, there has almost always been a Texas Republican vying for the highest elected office.

This season, however, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is having a discouraging effect on would-be Republican candidates. To discuss the odds of a Greg Abbott presidential run, the Texas Standard was joined by Joshua Blank, the Director of Research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Gov. Abbott just won re-election by a solid margin in a key Republican state. Why isn’t he putting his name in the primary race ring? 

Joshua Blank: Speculation about a presidential run by Greg Abbott has always been based on his strength within the state of Texas and his strength within the party, but not necessarily based on anything that the governor himself or his team has ever indicated. So really, this seems to be much more of a speculation than anything based on the governor’s stated interest.

Do you think the national Republican Party leaders have been eyeing him as a possible standout future national leader? And if so, why?

I think most of the national Republican Party leaders see themselves as potential presidential candidates. Look, the reality is that Abbott would certainly make a strong presidential contender. He’s a Republican governor of one of the largest states in the country. He’s a prolific fundraiser.

The main issue for Republican voters and Republican primary voters is immigration and border security. He is the governor of a state that shares a 1,200 mile border with Mexico. For these reasons, Abbott is always considered a national figure. Whether he wants to turn that national status into a presidential run is another question.

What other Texas politicians are eyeing the 2024 presidential race, and how do they compare to Abbott? 

I think the obvious answer here would be Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz ran against Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2016 and lasted the longest among his other competitors. Cruz has obviously been a lot more careful this time around about expressing interest and seeing what the former president is going to ultimately end up doing. But I think right now he seems to be the Texan most likely to be on the 2024 Republican primary ballot, between him and Abbott.

Donald Trump already announced he’ll run for president again in 2024. How does this affect possible GOP candidates?

I think it affects them a lot less than it might have six or eight months ago. After midterm elections that are largely being interpreted as a negative evaluation of the president’s impact on the party, because of the failure of a lot of his hand-picked candidates, a lot of Republican presidential contenders who may have been less likely to run now are reevaluating their chances.

That includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. I think Sen. Ted Cruz is on that short list of other Republicans who feel like they might have the positioning and the strength to take on the president in a Republican primary, especially if they think the former president’s been weakened.

A crowded field of Republicans could split enough votes to guarantee Trump the nomination. Who are some of the candidates a Republican Party might try to rally behind in a head-to-head race with Trump?

Well, I think that’s really the million dollar question. I think when we’re looking at the political futures of someone like Gov. Abbott or Sen. Cruz or Gov. DeSantis, ultimately this is what they’re trying to handicap — what the lane is they can fill, and whether or not there’s enough room for them in a presidential primary that includes not only the former president, but potentially some of these other candidates.

The important thing to remember here is that whether or not Abbott or any of these other Republicans choose to run, the speculation and the attention that they get only further raises their profile. For someone like Abbott, I think this makes him look stronger at home, but also provides him with more options in the future. And that certainly is true for Sen. Cruz and Gov. DeSantis, regardless of whether they choose to run.

Texas Republicans have been part of the presidential race for most of the last 40 years. How do Texans come across on the national stage, and what qualities make or break their transition from state to national politics? 

That is also another big question that is part of what makes calculating next moves for Republican officials a little bit more difficult than it used to be. There’s the idea that Texas is, to some degree, a microcosm of the country.

Given Texas’s size, the size of the economy, the size of its population, the number of cities it has, that diversity … it really is a proving ground. I think for a presidential candidate, the only issue is that, as the state becomes more polarized politically, do the politics of Texas translate to a national campaign? I’m not sure that they translate as well as they used to.

I think that’s one of the limiting factors for someone like Gov. Abbott, who’s led a state that has outlawed abortion, and is really likely to be at the forefront of the culture wars in public schools. Is that the platform for a national campaign? I’m not sure at this point, in the way that I think former Texas politicians could use their Texas experience as a jumping off point.

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