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Texas is becoming a key campaign stop for GOP presidential hopefuls

Florida governor and Republican presidential nomination hopeful Ron DeSantis made a stop in South Texas this week.
Tom Williams, Public domain
Wikimedia Commons
Florida governor and Republican presidential nomination hopeful Ron DeSantis made a stop in South Texas this week.

We’re still 252 days away from the Texas presidential primary, but the candidate trips to the Lone Star State are in full swing.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made a campaign stop in South Texas, unveiling details about his border policy. It was his first official campaign stop since announcing his presidential run last month.

Houston Chronicle politics reporter Jeremy Wallace was at the event. He spoke with the Standard’s Angela Kocherga about DeSantis’ visit, and what role Texas could play in shaping the race for the Republican ticket. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Now, you wrote on Twitter that Maverick County is starting to feel a little like the Iowa State Fair – a must-stop for presidential hopefuls. Why? 

Jeremy Wallace: Yeah, it’s interesting. Eagle Pass particularly has become the spot for not just presidential candidates but for candidates all over the nation to come to visit to show that they’re serious about the border. And so we’ve already had Nikki Haley down there earlier this year. And now here we have Ron DeSantis coming through. And we’ve seen all kinds of governors from other states.

So it’s now become kind of the spot to go to because of the surge of migration that we’ve seen at the border there. A lot of Republican candidates really want to be there to show that they are paying attention and want to highlight what they see as one of Joe Biden’s biggest failures on immigration.

» RELATED: DeSantis overshadowing Abbott as leading conservative ahead of the 2024 presidential election

Well, on Monday, when Florida Gov. DeSantis spoke in Eagle Pass, he unveiled his border policy. What did that entail and how was that proposal received by the audience? 

Well, it was certainly received really well by the audience. But a lot of what he said, you know, has a lot of barriers ahead of it.

You know, one of the things he wants to do is to give states like Texas the ability to deport people back across the border. That’s actually a federal rule, right? You know, the federal government is who’s responsible for immigration policy. And states have been prevented from doing that. But he says he thinks there’s a way to make sure that states have more authority to do something like that.

He talked about building the wall or finishing the wall. He pointed to, you know, President Trump said a lot about building a wall, but he didn’t finish it. And I don’t think it was accidental that he held a press conference in front of a section of the Rio Grande river that doesn’t have any border wall.

I think he wanted to show the public that whatever Donald Trump said, it didn’t get finished. I’m the guy to get it done.

We’ve certainly heard a lot about border walls here where I am in El Paso. Well, DeSantis has made headlines in Texas for chartering a flight to take migrants from El Paso to Martha’s Vineyard, and that led the Bexar County sheriff to file criminal charges against his administration. Did DeSantis address that while he was here in Texas?

Well, I made sure he did. I made sure to ask him about, you know, the sheriff filing charges against his administration for what they were doing. He said he hadn’t heard of it, but he said he’s not backing down.

He says he’s got more flights he’s going to be sending and he’s completely supportive of the idea. He says, you know, the mission is to target places that he calls “sanctuary cities,” places where they’re not necessarily going to help deport people they find, you know, in regular police patrols or whatever.

You got a really big round of applause now in Eagle Pass for saying he wants people in particularly liberal cities to see what Eagle Pass is dealing with every single day. They get well more than 50 people a day coming across that need social services and other sorts of needs. And he says he wants other states to see what Texas is dealing with.

Well, the border and immigration will no doubt be major issues, especially during the Republican primary. And candidates will try to set themselves apart from frontrunner and former president Donald Trump. Are they doing that?

Boy, it’s going to be a tough climb, right? You know, anybody who was alive in 2015 knows that this was the issue that Donald Trump used to really kind of, you know, send himself to the Republican nomination. And so how do these other Republican candidates get above that guy? And so I think that’s what DeSantis was trying to do, take on Donald Trump head on on the one issue that Donald Trump really kind of owns within the Republican Party.

It’s a long climb. I’m not sure, you know, he’s certainly not there yet. You know, like right now, if you did a poll in Iowa, I’m sure that’ll show that Trump is far better on the border than all the other candidates.

But I think this was, you know, DeSantis’ way to start trying to distinguish why his policy would be different than Trump. And I think that key is he says he’s going to get things done that Trump talked about but wasn’t able to finish.

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Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.