Analysis: The Politics Behind The Masks

Matt Pierce Briscoe

Texas is setting records when it comes to COVID-19 and it seems like Texas is starting to finally feel the impacts that the rest of the world has been feeling for months. But then there is Governor Abbott and the face mask controversy.

As confirmed cases continue to go up in the weeks following Gov. Abbott’s decision to reopen the state, he is making the television rounds across the state explaining why it is he always had the “business mask requirement” rule in the plan. Of course he did.

You see, Gov. Abbott’s plan didn’t work out like he thought it would and the number of COVID-19 cases in the state have skyrocketed. This was and is his strategic political recovery plan, and Democrat officials around the state have zero choice but to follow suite.

The plan is masterful to say the least. Abbott began getting flack from business owners and the far right to open Texas ahead of plan. He had to do something and the fact remained that Gov. Abbott had little option. So, he did what he could do and laid out a plan to open Texas in phases, and that seemed to work in the short haul. Initially it had looked like he and his advisors had won the battle and Texas really did dodge the bullet. But then it happened.

We reached the most vulnerable phase of the reopening plan where we allowed bars to open, youth sporting events to continue, open hair salons, restaurants could increase capacity, and Texas would be ready to go! Governor Abbott, always a strategist and one to trust those closest to him, always left himself an out and always left a way to leave businesses and local governments holding the blame for any flare up in new cases.

In guidance, he has always said that a business doesn’t have to open their doors if they don’t want to do it. He also has always had the provision in place for local leaders to force businesses to enforce mask wearing restrictions or face the consequences. Gov. Abbott and his strategy team had this well under control in the event that this thing ever went south. And go south it did.

New cases started going up higher and higher in Texas. Kids who had been locked at home for weeks and months were now able o go out and do things. The gym and health people were now free to go and workout while socially networking at the gym. You could finally go and get a haircut! Texans were now free to roam about as they please without much restriction at all. Meanwhile, the number of new cases continues to increase.

Governor Abbott had his atomic scapegoat and now he is being forced to play it. He couldn’t go after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins again or it would look like he was just playing hardball on familiar turf. It was Nelson Wolfe in Bexar County that took the bait first.

While Wolfe was drafting his plan for Bexar County, under the rules set in place by the Governor, Abbott was making the TV rounds. Up in Waco, Abbott let it slip that “it was about time” that Wolfe and others saw that there was this exemption in place for them to use. Abbott not only wanted them to start enacting the rules that he sat in place, he politically NEEDED the Democrat judges and mayors to jump on that ship. Now, Abbott has just what he needed: His political scapegoat and by forcing the mask issue at the local level, Abbott makes the mainly Democrat local level leadership and weak Republicans take the ultimate blame at lower levels of government.

Voters are not likely to take their wrath out on Governor Abbott when he comes back up for re-election. Here is a fact: Voters have short term memory in big races. By then, Republicans will be too focused on keeping a Republican at 1010 Colorado. Locally, they won’t likely forget and for Republicans, that is a good thing.

The plan is that you make the Democrat and weak Republican leaders at the local level take the blame and you weed them out forcing a clear path for a GOP future without sacrificing too much. It is chess, not checkers.

So by forcing businesses to force customers to wear face masks, Abbott knows it is what needs to be done, but he is not going to be the one to take the political hit for it. Sure, some will (and are) coming down on him pretty hard, but that will pass. Those Republicans will not sacrifice a major seat over a face mask. But in the end, the Democrats are desperate to gain some ground and right now, it looks like this might be their golden goose to claim a victory. Be careful. Abbott has some good, middle-of-the-road-walking strategists behind him and he is eloquent with words. for Democrats it is more like being forced to pick their poison and they had better be damn careful.

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