GOP Leadership at Odds Over Response to Tragedy
Confusion, conflicting reports from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in wake of Dallas shooting
To anyone who tracks Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's confrontational cant, his incendiary accusation of hypocrisy against anti-police-violence protesters fleeing bullets during last week's shooting in Dallas was no surprise. However, it yet again revealed the tensions between himself and Gov. Greg Abbott, as the state's most senior executive had to face awkward questions about his supposed right-hand man.
At 9:59am on Friday, July 8, Abbott's press office sent out an email stating that all Texas flags were to be lowered to half-staff to mark the death of five police officers. However, while the statement quoted Abbott at length, the directive actually came from Patrick, who was filling in for Abbott because he was out of state.
Well, that's half the story, and it was seemingly the only time they were on the same page about the shootings.
Last week, Abbott was on a family vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., when he received second- and third-degree burns to his feet and legs. By the time of the Dallas shooting, he had already received medical treatment. The information was not released until Sunday, with Abbott's staff later telling press that they did not want Abbott's condition to overshadow the events in Dallas. (Which raises the question: When were they planning to release that information?)
On Friday, Patrick made one of his regular Fox News appearances, this time on Outnumbered. He initially put out a call for counselors to help support Dallas officers, but he then went on to call the protesters receiving aid from law enforcement "hypocrites." He then added that he was "sick and tired of those who are protesting our police" and blamed the shooting on "people on social media with their hatred toward police." He even specifically called out Rev. Jesse Jackson and other Black Lives Matter protesters as culpable.
By contrast, that same day Abbott issued a measured open letter to the people of Texas. In it, he wrote, "Texas is an exceptional state with exceptional people. We've faced tough challenges in the past, but we have come together to overcome those challenges." Not that he was wholly conciliatory. He included the words "every life matters," phrasing very close to the #alllivesmatter hashtag that has been criticized as a tone-deaf rebuttal to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Abbott then made the trip to Dallas for a mass joint press conference, at which Patrick was notable by his absence. However, his comments were a shadow over the event. When asked about the lieutenant governor's inflammatory rhetoric, Abbott replied that Thursday's event "should not be used as a tool of division." It was unclear whether he meant an end to division between Americans, or for anyone implying that there was a division between himself and Patrick.
Abbott later appeared on MSNBC and was further probed by Brian Williams about Patrick's statements. First Abbott awkwardly deflected a question about racial divides in Texas by talking about entrepreneurship. Then Williams diplomatically referred to Patrick's comments as "not terribly helpful," to which Abbott simply replied that he honored and respected the sacrifice of law enforcement in Texas. Williams pushed harder, asking Abbott specifically about Patrick's claims that the people being shot at were hypocrites. The governor demurred, responding that "because of travel, I missed that."
This is far from the first time that the governor and lieutenant governor have found themselves at odds. Last session, the sanctity of the regular strategy breakfasts between Abbott, Patrick, and Speaker Joe Straus was violated when it was leaked that Patrick had accused his fellow GOP leaders of "picking on" him.