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Gov. Greg Abbott Endorses Donald Trump During Border Trip

Abbott made the presidential endorsement after he and Trump served meals to service members deployed for Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s sprawling border security mission.

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Former President Donald Trump greets and shakes hands with Gov. Greg Abbott at the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg, on Nov. 19, 2023, after the governor announced that he was endorsing Trump. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Former President Donald Trump greets and shakes hands with Gov. Greg Abbott at the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg, on Nov. 19, 2023, after the governor announced that he was endorsing Trump. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
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BY PATRICK SVITEK AND MAIA PANDEY / THE TEXAS TRBUNE

Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday endorsed Donald Trump’s comeback campaign for the White House, while hosting the former president at the Texas-Mexico border.

“We need Donald J. Trump back as our president of the United States of America,” Abbott said, promising Trump would secure the border and “restore law and order.”

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Trump said the endorsement was a “tremendous honor” given how hard Abbott has worked to fortify the border under Democratic President Joe Biden.

“Mr. Governor, I am going to make your job much easier,” Trump said. “You’ll be able to focus on other things in Texas.”

Abbott made the endorsement after he and Trump served meals to service members deployed for Operation Lone Star, Abbott’s sprawling border security mission. As part of the effort, which has cost Texas billions of dollars, Abbott sent state troopers and National Guard members to the border to arrest migrants crossing the Rio Grande. Some of the arrests are the subject of civil rights lawsuits against the state. 

Ahead of Trump’s visit, Democrats doubled down on criticism of his and the governor’s immigration strategy. During a news conference on Saturday, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, Biden’s campaign manager, said Trump would enact “extreme, inhumane and fundamentally un-American” immigration policies if given a second term. 

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In recent months, the former president has promised to revive his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries and has refused to commit to not reinstating a controversial policy that led to family separations.

Trump’s “trip to Texas is not about securing the border,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just another photo-op with what we know is one of the most anti-immigrant governors, whose policies have forced vulnerable women and children into horrific conditions.”

Abbott’s endorsement comes as Trump’s lead grows among the other Republicans seeking the 2024 presidential nomination. Both nationally and in Texas, Trump is polling far ahead of his nearest rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations. 

Abbott’s support is notable because he has not embraced Trump as much as some other statewide officials like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who twice chaired Trump’s campaign in Texas. Abbott does not often attend Trump’s campaign events in Texas, like the stop he made in Houston earlier this month. Abbott instead made a surprise trip to Israel at the time, saying he wanted to show solidarity after the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Trump and his allies have also shown occasional signs of frustration with Abbott over the years. More recently, Trump questioned in May on his Truth Social platform why Abbott was not speaking out about the Texas House’s impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a top Trump ally in Texas.

But Abbott and Trump have previously found ways to shore up their relationship at election time. Trump gave Abbott an early and crucial endorsement in his contested primary for reelection last year, and Abbott appeared at a Trump rally in the Houston area weeks before the primary, which the governor easily won.

Earlier this year, Abbott’s relationship with DeSantis was also a subject of political intrigue. With DeSantis riding high after his resounding reelection in Florida, Abbott and his agenda faced regular comparisons to his newly ascendent fellow GOP governor. DeSantis visited Texas in March and played down any tensions in speeches at county GOP fundraisers, hailing the two states as leading partners against the political left.

Abbott also knows Haley from her time as a fellow GOP governor in South Carolina. They have appeared multiple times together in Texas, including in the final weeks of his reelection bid last year.

Trump called Abbott’s nod a “big endorsement,” saying the governor is “not free and easy with endorsements.”

Earlier this year, Abbott was himself considered a possible 2024 presidential candidate. While he never ruled it out, speculation faded as his legislative agenda stalled at the state Capitol, prompting four special sessions.

Throughout the year, Abbott stayed out of the presidential primary, even as DeSantis and Haley traveled to the state for fundraising and made inroads with some of Texas’ top donors. When he was asked in August if he preferred DeSantis or Trump on border policy, Abbott dodged the question.

“We just want a Republican president,” he said. 

Uriel García contributed reporting.

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