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Texas’ Greg Abbott reverses course on damaging border scheme

In theory, the governor's border antics might seem like a huge political blunder, especially in an election year. But the Texan seems to like his chances.


Under his Operation Lone Star, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott deployed thousands of Texas National Guard troops to the border. The Republican’s massive political stunt was ultimately a fiasco, with troops condemning the “deplorable conditions” and their “unclear mission.”

The bus phase of the “operation” wasn’t much better: As we’ve discussed, the governor thought it’d be a good idea to put a group of undocumented migrants on buses and transport them to Washington, D.C., without any coordination with federal officials. It wasn’t altogether clear who was supposed to benefit from giving these migrants free trips to the nation’s capital.

But perhaps the most consequential element of Abbott’s immigration agenda was his decision to impose additional layers of inspections on all commercial vehicles entering Texas. Practically everyone warned that the policy would create lengthy delays, which is precisely what happened: Truckers, many of whom were transporting fresh produce destined for American tables, got stuck in traffic for more than 30 hours.

What ensued was a series of negotiations between the governor and Mexican officials. On Friday, as The Texas Tribune reported, Abbott decided he was satisfied.

Gov. Greg Abbott reached a fourth and final deal — this one with Tamaulipas’ governor on Friday — to end state troopers’ increased inspections of commercial vehicles at international bridges that gridlocked commercial traffic throughout the Texas-Mexico border for more than a week. The latest deal should bring trade back to normal after Abbott-ordered enhanced inspections at key commercial bridges caused over a week of backups that left truckers waiting for hours and sometimes days to get loads of produce, auto parts and other goods into the U.S.

It’s rare to see a Republican governor infuriate so many people so quickly. Before Friday’s reversal, officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection clearly weren’t pleased. The White House wasn’t happy, either. Among the many who were similarly displeased were American businesses that struggle when supply chains are disrupted for no reason.

The fact that Abbott’s stunt made inflation worse added insult to injury.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, usually a reliable ally of Republicans and their policy plans, chided the governor for “punishing Americans by obstructing legal commerce.” The editors added that Abbott’s plan cost Texans and Americans dearly “while doing nothing to secure the border.”

Among the most notable critics of the governor’s policy is Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who described Abbott’s move as “political theater” and an “economy killing action” that risked shortages on grocery store shelves.

In an open letter addressed to the governor, Miller — a Trump-endorsed Republican — added, “Your inspection protocol is not stopping illegal immigration. It is stopping food from getting to grocery store shelves and in many cases causing food to rot in trucks — many of which are owned by Texas and other American companies.”

Abbott has reversed course, but that doesn’t mean everything will immediately return to normal for consumers. A CNN report late last week added:

Losses to fruit and vegetable producers are estimated to be more than $240 million, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. Consumers will also pay a price as producers look to recoup some of their losses and supplies run low. Americans can expect to spend more on strawberries, avocados and asparagus as soon as this weekend, with the impacts being felt the heaviest in the Midwest and Northeast, Jungmeyer said.

In theory, this might seem like a drastic political blunder, especially for a governor in an election year. It’s easy to imagine Abbott paying a high political price for a debacle of this magnitude.

But in practice, the governor released a video via social media over the weekend boasting about what a great job he did. In other words, Abbott seems to think this should be a political winner for re-election campaign.

We haven’t seen much in the way of independent polling out of the Lone Star State lately, but in recent months, surveys have found the Republican incumbent consistently leading former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Will Abbott’s recent antics change the dynamic? Watch this space.