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He had the makings of a leader of a certain kind of men


Ron DeSantis was outraged that Greg Abbott had a land border that gave him props for his racist rube-running ops, and dammit he was going to stage his own even if it involved a little kidnapping and fraud. Abbott, meanwhile, did not appreciate DeSantis stealing his hood:

But privately, the Florida governor’s gambit stung Mr. Abbott’s team. No one in the Texas governor’s office was given a heads-up that Mr. DeSantis planned to round up migrants in San Antonio, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Abbott had spent months — and millions of state tax dollars — methodically orchestrating a relocation program that, since April, had bused 11,000 migrants to Washington, New York and Chicago. Mr. DeSantis’s adaptation was considerably smaller.

But it immediately put the national spotlight on Mr. DeSantis, garnering headlines and earning him praise from Republicans and condemnation from Democrats. It also led to an investigation by the sheriff in San Antonio and a lawsuit from migrants who said they had been lured onto the planes under false pretenses. Mr. DeSantis grabbed the attention of right-wing America, using Mr. Abbott’s tactic, on Mr. Abbott’s turf, to bigger and more dramatic effect.

Mr. DeSantis’s instinct for political theater has helped him quickly turn into Republicans’ leading alternative to former President Donald J. Trump. Even Texas Republicans tell pollsters that they prefer Mr. DeSantis over Mr. Abbott for president in 2024.

The two Republican governors have been locked in an increasingly high-stakes contest of one-upmanship, wielding their own unique brands of conservatism and pushing boundaries by using desperate migrants for political gain. In Florida, Mr. DeSantis mused to donors last year about Mr. Abbott’s good political fortune to share 1,254 miles of border with Mexico and complained that he didn’t have the same to use as a backdrop, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

It’s like Ross Barnett and George Wallace in a cycle of trying to one-up the other’s racist demagoguery all over again. Cynical nihilism never goes away, it just gets superficially slicker incarnations.

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