Greg Abbott’s Performative Border Clash Is A Classic MAGA Era Stunt

INSIDE: Mayorkas ... Carroll ... Trump
AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 31: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference on January 31, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Abbott held a meeting and news conference in preparation for the winter storm that is swee... AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 31: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference on January 31, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Abbott held a meeting and news conference in preparation for the winter storm that is sweeping across portions of Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

When Is A Stunt Substantive?

For almost a year now, I’ve been struggling with how to cover Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s performative border clash in a way that reflects that it’s fundamentally a political stunt while also warning of how extreme the premise of the stunt is. It’s a tricky balance that is a hallmark of the Trump era we find ourselves in.

No one really believes that individual states have or should have authority to police the international borders of the United States. No one really believes that the U.S. is under invasion by unarmed migrants crossing the southern border for desperate economic reasons. No one really believes that Abbott is acting in good faith to address an intractable policy problem with a well-designed, carefully calibrated, workable solution.

In the old days, the fact that no one really believes this is anything other than a political stunt would probably have been enough either not to cover it or to cover it solely as a stunt. And there’s plenty to cover as a political stunt, including: It aligns with Trump’s campaign efforts to demonize and vilify migrants; it syncs up with the House GOP’s effort to make the border central to the 2024 election; it gives Republicans a vehicle to highlight the so-called border crisis and attack President Biden for it; and it inoculates elected Republicans in Texas from criticism for the border crisis.

The tell that the right wing doesn’t really care about the border except as a political cudgel is how there is virtually no criticism of Texas elected officials for the border crisis they insist exists or blowback for the small-bore, penny-ante solutions they’ve come up with, like stringing barbed wire across sections of the Rio Grande. It’s the same dynamic that insulated President Trump from criticism for failing to build the wall let alone shut down the border entirely – and lets him campaign for Trump II while unironically continuing to promise to build the fabled wall.

But this isn’t the old days. Abbott has a legislature going along with his plans. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, is the most conservative in the country and gives Abbott not just cover but vindication, and there’s a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court that just might be willing to rewrite federal immigration law, dramatically alter the balance of power between the states and the federal government, or engage in some other mischief.

And so the challenge of covering it is how to treat it like a stunt, while noting the substantive risks, even if remote, and at the same time not unduly alarm the public in the exact same way that the stunt is intended to do. I’m not complaining. There are much harder jobs than this one. But it’s these kinds of performative threats – and their symbolic and real power – that mark the Trump era and generate often subpar coverage of what’s really happening.

A sampling of Josh Kovensky’s early coverage shows how we balanced it before it became a national story:

March 24, 2023: Texas Legislators Propose Takeover Of Federal Immigration Enforcement

April 13, 2023: Texas Bill Would Make Federal Law ‘Inoperative’ In The State To ‘Repel’ Migrants

April 16, 2023: ‘Invasion’: Texas GOP Struggles Over What Crisis To Manufacture At Border

April 19, 2022: Abbott: If Mexico Sends One More Immigrant, I’ll Take The Border Hostage Again

May 16, 2023: Texas Moves One Step Closer To Asking SCOTUS To Rewrite National Immigration Law

July 24, 2023: Abbott: We Need Rio Grande Buoys To Protect From Invasion

Must Read

University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck goes deep on the legal underpinnings to the Abbott’s stunt: Governor Abbott’s Perilous Effort at Constitutional Realignment.

More From Vladeck:

Not Unrelated To Texas

The House Homeland Security Committee is expected to approve baseless and evidence-free articles of impeachment today against DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the bogus grounds that he hasn’t sufficiently secured the southern border.

Lankford Gets The MAGA Treatment

The Oklahoma GOP is very upset that Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) is negotiating a border bill.

Fascism Spares No One

Aaron Blake: Republicans now say it might be okay to ignore the Supreme Court



In the wake of the 2020 election, the president of the far-right network One America News sent a potentially explosive email to former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, with a spreadsheet claiming to contain passwords of employees from the voting technology company Smartmatic, according to court filings.

The existence of the spreadsheet was recently disclosed by Smartmatic, which is suing OAN for defamation. CNN pieced together who was involved in the email exchanges by examining court records from three separate cases stemming from the 2020 election.

Lawyers from Smartmatic told a federal judge that the email, and the attached spreadsheet, suggest OAN executives “may have engaged in criminal activities” because they “appear to have violated state and federal laws regarding data privacy.”

Victory Tour

E. Jean Carroll made the rounds on TV yesterday, basking in her $83 million judgment against Donald Trump:

The WaPo takes a stab at answering the question many of you have asked: Will Carroll ever actually collect from Trump?

Hate To See It

The Daily Beast: Trumps Throw Tantrum Over Court Monitor’s Financial Bombshell


Former IRS contractor sentenced to five years in prison for leaking Trump tax records to NYT.

Abortion Under Trump II

Former TPMer Alice Ollstein on the plans anti-abortion groups are devising for a Trump II presidency:

In emerging plans that involve everything from the EPA to the Federal Trade Commission to the Postal Service, nearly 100 anti-abortion and conservative groups are mapping out ways the next president can use the sprawling federal bureaucracy to curb abortion access.

Many of the policies they advocate are ones Trump implemented in his first term and President Joe Biden rescinded — rules that would have a far greater impact in a post-Roe landscape. Other items on the wish list are new, ranging from efforts to undo state and federal programs promoting access to abortion to a de facto national ban. But all have one thing in common: They don’t require congressional approval.

Worth Noting …

Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes a step toward finding a right to abortion in the state constitution.

Mystery Solved … Kinda?

This announcement on the House floor yesterday spawned a lot of speculation:

Later in the day, reports emerged that the Justice Department is investigating a not-yet-named-publicly House Democrat for alleged misuse of government funds for personal security.

Illinois Considers Trump DQ Clause Case

The Illinois Board of Elections is scheduled this morning to consider a Disqualification Clause case against Donald Trump.

2024 Ephemera

Are We Entering The Pyrocene?

The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert reviews three new books on climate-change-driven wildfires.

ANKARA, TURKIYE – DECEMBER 20: An infographic titled “World witnesses massive wildfires in 2023” created in Ankara, Turkiye on December 20, 2023. While causing the deaths and injuries of hundreds of people worldwide, particularly in Canada, the United States, and Greece, forest fires in 2023 led to extensive destruction, loss of forestland areas, and increased carbon emissions. (Photo by Yasin Demirci/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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