Rumors regarding the political ambitions of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are constantly swirling about. It’s widely believed that the lieutenant governor has his eye on the top spot and dropping the “Lieutenant” from his title. The one obstacle in his way is Gov. Greg Abbott who Patrick has supported throughout troubling times. But the political upheaval over the state’s response to COVID should have the governor watching over his shoulder.
The daylight has only grown between the two top state officials with regards to opening businesses, schools and wearing masks. Patrick, not Abbott, is President Trump’s state campaign chair and he has used his role to float messaging trial balloons on Fox News. Patrick has regularly appeared on the cable news network since the beginning of the pandemic with headline grabbing comments that make any reasonable Texan slap their forehead.
He knows what he is doing. Patrick understands political theater and controversy is the fuel he has used to rise to political prominence within the Republican Party. He started as a conservative radio jockey in Houston and has been the state’s bellwether for a grassroots movement that was originally defined by the Tea Party. As Texas’ population and political landscape shifts, Patrick has had to dig deeper into the ideological well of the far right to keep his bonafides intact. Patrick is determined to define the issues of the day and his refusal to allow any prominent politico to advance on his right flank has led to his support of things like banning transgender people from using public restrooms, racial profiling “show your papers” laws, and more recently sacrificing the elderly and school children to the COVID gods.
It’s a never ending push towards the extreme end of the political spectrum that as of late has seemed to have exhausted Abbott. When Abbott backed Shelley Luther, the grifting salon owner who was jailed for contempt of court after violating the governor’s own order, Patrick paid her bail. When Abbott closed down bars a second time after admitting that repening them was a mistake, Patrick declared to Fox News that Texas “wasn’t stepping backward.” And while Abbott insists he is now listening to health experts, Patrick said he would no longer listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top physician and immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Abbott may have more money in the bank than any Texas politician in history, but his friends are getting harder to find. When he tried to balance the wants of his party’s faithful with the advice of health experts that position quickly grew untenable. It resulted in an inconsistent message that led to a continuing spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Democrats and local officials were angry by how long it took for Abbott to side with health officials, but his base accused him of selling them out. Over 80 Texas counties opted out of his mask order, several GOP county parties have officially censured him over his executive orders, and there was a push at their state convention to prevent Abbott from running for reelection on the GOP ballot. That last part especially is not lost on Patrick.
Patrick maintains he is gearing up for reelection and that may be true at the moment but as the political winds continue to shift the eyes of Texans should stay focused on the machiavellian man from Maryland.
Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
Joe Deshotel is originally from Beaumont, Texas, but a combination of live music, politics, and natural beauty brought him to Austin in 2010. He has over a decade of experience in public policy that covers federal, state, and local government and has worked on a number of successful election campaigns. He continues to consult on Democratic campaigns and serves as the Chair of Austin’s Community Development Commission which advocates for affordable housing and solutions for homelessness.