For Donald Trump and Greg Abbott, Harvey may be their finest hour

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 29: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks with first lady Melania Trump prior to their Marine One departure from the White House August 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump was traveling to Texas to observe the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Good morning Austin:

President Trump will be in Corpus Christi and Austin today.

Barring the unforeseen – which, as I am typing those words, I realize, in the case of our president, is the totally foreseeable, maybe even inevitable – this should be a very good day for Trump, maybe even the finest hour of his tumultuous presidency, now approaching its nine month of gestation.

These last few days, since Harvey descended upon Texas, has also been the finest hour of our governor, Greg Abbott, who has acquitted himself with great skill, aplomb, authority and humanity. In these last few days, Greg Abbott has gone from being the Republican governor of Texas – or the even mostly the governor of the Texas Republican primary electorate – to the governor of all of Texas.

In this, the governor could be an example for a president who seems happy enough to the be president of that relatively small fraction of the electorate that delights in everything he does, without regard for that larger expanse of the American public who find themselves at the aghast side of agog with every mind-boggling twist and turn and tweet.

Gov. Greg Abbott encourages emergency officials working at the State Operations Center on Friday August 25, 2017, in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The story of Harvey is a harrowing and tragic tale, but Texas – the people mostly, but also its government   – has emerged with its reputation and even its large self-regard confirmed and enhanced. Hurricanes, disasters of this scale, can make or break mayors and governors and presidents. At this point in the life of Katrina a dozen years ago, the narrative from New Orleans especially was ugly and unsettling and President Bush, appearing hapless, was, metaphorically, drowning.

We are still very much in the thick of terrible peril, especially in Houston – the city that was the extraordinarily capable and generous host to so many of those fleeing New Orleans after Katrina – and the public mood could change dramatically. The recovery and rebuilding will be long and arduous, frustrating and contentious.

But, for the moment, the stars are aligned for a coordinated and complementary state and federal response.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, to Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto Texas to view the federal government’s response to Harvey’s devastating flooding in Texas. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The governor has lauded the Trump administration, from the president on down, giving them an A-plus for their swift and positive response to the storm. The president, in return, has praised the governor to the hilt and in very personal terms.

The way to the president’s heart and loyalty is to lavish praise upon him, and this is certainly the safest, and most sensible terrain for the governor of Texas to commend the president. Indeed, it may provide the governor a safe harbor from having to respond to other things the president does or says (though he has show no previous desire to do so anyway).

The key administration players – FEMA director Brock Long and Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert have, so far, exuded competence. No “heck of a job, Brownie” needed here.

This is a case where it appears the president can rise to the occasion in a way that suits his personality and predilections while also serving the national interest. He is drawn to being the president who presided over the response and recovery – the rebuilding – after a disaster of truly historic proportions. To those who begrudge the president this trip to Texas at this early moment, it is a small down-payment on the enormous investment of federal resources that the aftermath of Harvey will require, and that the president will be instrumental in making happen.

On Monday, the president predicted swift, bipartisan congressional approval of aid for Texas, and if that coms to pass, it would be a signal achievement for this president.

For Trump, it helps that this is Texas, a state whose mythology he is happy to flatter, and, perhaps even more importantly, a state that supported him in 2016. Gov. Abbott is, for the president, an uncomplicated partner. There is, for the president, no obvious ulterior political agenda or score to settle in Texas.

Sean Hannity and Alex Jones – the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside of the pro-Trump media – would like to blame Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for not ordering an evacuation, a course of action that the governor had recommended.

You can listen to Hannity here, beginning just after 13 minutes in.

And, a little past two minutes in, Alex Jones explains that it was all a conspiracy to make the disaster as bad a possible so they can blame Trump.

“Pure evil,” said Jones.

But, the Republican Harris County judge, Ed Emmet, and Turner’s mayoral rival, Bill King, agreed with Turner’s decision not to order a mandatory evacuation, and Abbott, with great class, did not for a minute second-guess Turner essentially countermanding the governor’s instinct on this.

As Manny Fernandez and Richard Fausset wrote at the conclusion of their New York Times piece yesterday, Houston Mayor’s No-Win Dilemma: Whether to Tell Residents to Stay or Go:

In the face of so much dislocation, the political positioning diminished once the storm hit. Mr. Abbott has declined to second-guess Mr. Turner and Mr. Emmett, part of a broader spirit that now pervades the state as Texans pull together in the face of tragedy. On Sunday, the governor was asked on ABC’s “This Week” program if Houston officials erred by not ordering an evacuation.

“The local officials know best about this,” he said.

I don’t see Trump wading into this controversy. I see him following the governor’s lead.

In sum, for Trump, Texas is a safe space for him to do the right thing.

For Abbott, Harvey, and his response now, and in the years to come, will define his governorship, and it arrived at a moment when the governor was in danger of giving vent to his inner Tomás de Torquemada, launching a campaign to purge from the Republican House those who thwarted his 20-for-20 agenda in the recently-ended special session.

Texas Greg Abbott visited the Austin ISD Delco Center Saturday evening August 26, 2017 which has been opened as an evacuee shelter for those fleeing their homes from Hurricane Harvey and met Shirelle Franklin and her family who fled from their home in Victoria, Texas yesterday. She cries as she talks about their experience with the governor.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This seemed a risky endeavor prompted at least in part because he has $41 million in his campaign account, with plenty more to come, and a vaunted organization, and nothing so far to spend or vaunt it against. He may still pursue his campaign to change the makeup of the Texas House, but it seems now that Harvey makes a far more productive target than Joe Straus. In the face of Harvey, fretting about the failure of the Texas House to get an up-or-down vote on the bathroom bill seems especially petty and out-of-place.

Harvey also places in sharp relief the difference between being the governor of Texas and the lieutenant governor. Much was written about how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was driving the agenda in Austin, particularly during the regular session, and that he was really the commanding presence at the Capitol. But, with Harvey, it is Greg Abbott and not Dan Patrick who is in charge. That is how the people of Texas will see it. It is how the rest of America will see it. There are for Abbott obvious risks in this, but there would seem to be less need to look over his shoulder to see what Patrick is up to.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott receives a briefing from the dozens of statewide officials gathered inside the Texas Department of Public Safety Special Operations Center Saturday August 26, 2017 as they begin to assess the damage and destruction of Hurricane Harvey.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

For what it’s worth, Harvey also makes the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s previous resistance to tapping the state’s $10 billion rainy day fund look good – their argument being that that money should be reserved for rainy days. Those rainy days are here.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk from Marine One to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, for a trip to Texas to get an update on Harvey relief efforts. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 

 

 

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