DeSantis seeks to wrestle border issue from Trump with second visit

Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about President Donald Trump during a campaign rally Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Brynn Anderson/AP

DeSantis seeks to wrestle border issue from Trump with second visit

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AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) will make his first visit to the Texas border next week, a move GOP political consultants said has a deeper meaning than just a photo-op.

The 2024 Republican presidential hopeful is slated to stop in Eagle Pass, Texas, an extremely remote 30,000-person town in south-central Texas that in 2021 and 2022 was the epicenter of the border crisis. It is his second trip to the border, adding to an Arizona visit earlier in June, which will surpass the number of visits that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made in office.

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“He is attempting as many times as possible to get to the right of Trump,” said Luke Macias, a Republican consultant and political commentator, in a phone call with the Washington Examiner.

Former President Donald Trump, who made immigration restrictions a centerpiece of his administration and pledged to build a wall with Mexico, has visited the border once since leaving office in January 2021.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican operative in Texas and partner at Austin-based public affairs firm Steinhauser Strategies, said DeSantis is trying to position himself as the better border security candidate.

“Governor DeSantis is definitely running as the border security candidate in this campaign,” Steinhauser wrote in an email. “He has strongly asserted that he will deliver on many of the promises that former President Trump made, but did not deliver on. One clear example is finishing the border wall and striving toward true operational control of the border.

“He is going to show them that he means business on the border,” Steinhauser continued. “As governor, he signed a bill that requires employers to use E-verify, increases penalties on human traffickers, and suspends licenses of employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. And he has bussed hundreds of illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities.”

DeSantis vowed in an interview published Monday that his “No. 1” priority as president would be to “shut down” the border on his first day in office, declare a national emergency, and “build a border wall.”

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Most recently, DeSantis deployed Florida personnel to Texas to help Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety officers on the front lines. DeSantis’s office said he will not visit the deployed state officers during his time in Eagle Pass.

Texas has spent more than $4 billion on border security efforts over the past two years and is quick to tout the number of illegal immigrants that state police have arrested and pounds of drugs seized from smugglers. But those accomplishments have not resolved the crisis.

“Texans are pretty frustrated overall by not only the lack of results from the federal government, but also the fact that the border remains open even with a Republican-controlled state,” Macias said.

DeSantis has not disclosed who will accompany him on his tour. He’ll speak at the Eagle Pass VFW Post on Monday morning.

One figure based in the region DeSantis could link up with is Jason Owens, the Border Patrol chief of the Del Rio region that includes Eagle Pass. Owens is slated to become national chief of the Border Patrol in 10 days and whose wife was a senior aide for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The office of Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) informed the Washington Examiner on Wednesday evening that he would not attend.

“The Governor is unable to join as he is focused on delivering property tax relief for all Texans,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement.

Eagle Pass is located in the congressional district that belongs to second-term GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales, who led another White House hopeful, Nikki Haley, on a border tour in April.

But Macias warned that Gonzales would not be a good fit for DeSantis to be seen with given their contrasting views on the border and immigration — with DeSantis falling further right of the lawmaker.

A good guide for the visit would be Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a House Freedom Caucus member who has been outspoken about securing the border during his time in office, according to Macias. Roy, unlike other Republicans in Texas who have “talked a big game” but not delivered in fixing the border, is serious about seeing the federal government regain control of the 2,000-mile boundary. Roy endorsed DeSantis for president in March, months before the governor announced his White House run.

“Having somebody like Chip Roy in his corner shows that he is supported by the people who take this issue really seriously and have spent a lot of time on the border,” Macias said.

Roy’s spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what DeSantis does with his time here but [also] what he concludes can be done and should be done on the federal side,” Macias said.

DeSantis visited the Tucson area of Arizona earlier this month, where he held a roundtable with sheriffs from three southern border states and announced a nationwide coalition to bolster security at the border.

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DeSantis has frustrated Democratic politicians in Massachusetts and California for flying immigrants to their states, similar to how Abbott has bused immigrants to major Northern cities.

This spring, the Florida legislature passed a major anti-illegal immigration bill, and DeSantis signed it into law in May.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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