I was born in 1988, meaning I was in the eighth grade when Rick Perry first became the governor of my home state of Texas. Almost 15 years later, Gov. Perry has finally announced his intention to take his talents somewhere else — probably Iowa or New Hampshire — and that leaves us with a question: What happens now?
I guess we can start with what will not happen. Sorry, liberal dreamers, but Wendy Davis has a 0.00 percent chance of being the next governor of Texas. And even if you don't know it, she does, so don't expect her to be entering the race this go round. Indeed, we don't really even need to explore the names of Democrats, or even the names of any Republicans not named Abbott when speculating as to the identity of the next governor of Texas. Only one name really matters — Greg Abbott. At the end of the week, you can bet that he will announce his candidacy for the top office of the second largest state in the union, and you can expect him to sail to victory in both the primary and the general.
So who is this Abbott fellow? The fact that will most immediately stand out to television audiences that have never heard of him is that Abbott cannot walk, meaning that he will be the first national figure to use a wheelchair in a very, very long time. In a dramatic example of life's random dangers, Abbott went for a run one day when he was 26 and an oak tree fell on him. Such an abrupt change of life circumstances would be startling, but it certainly has not slowed Abbott down professionally. In the years since the accident, Abbott has thrived in private practice at a big law firm in Texas and then won a seat as a state trial judge in Houston. After three years, George W. Bush promoted him to the Texas Supreme Court, where he served for five years. When then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn resigned to run for his current job as a U.S. senator, Abbott resigned the court, hopped into the race for attorney general, and won. In the years since, Abbott has more or less stayed put and waited for Perry to … well, leave. Now he has, and Abbott is the heir apparent.
Predicting Abbott's fate once in office is tricky, particularly with the long shadow that his predecessor will continue to cast once out of office. As clownish a figure as Rick Perry has at times been on the national stage, it cannot be overstated just how effectively Perry wielded power in Texas. Those who doubt his political prowess need only look at the results of the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. In a telling example of just how appealing a political job being governor of Texas really is, sitting (and long time) U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — who is not just intelligent and respected, but also a formidable political operator — tried to unseat Perry in the primary. Many, like myself, were thrilled and thought Hutchison would succeed. I could not have been more wrong. Perry did not just defeat her — he crushed her, ultimately finishing over 20 percentage points clear of his challenger. Perry's grip on power was ruthless, and whether they admit it or not, many of the powers that be in Texas quietly feared crossing Perry.
So the first thing you need to understand about Abbott is that he is not Rick Perry. While genuinely conservative, Abbott's rise to political power has come via election to largely apolitical positions. There are moments when politics influence states' attorneys general and elected state judges, but the day-to-day duties of the positions are largely defined by tasks that do not involve politics. Thus while Abbot has demonstrated his ability to present political arguments, the rules and norms that govern arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States are very different than those that govern the battlefield Rick Perry and Wendy Davis have been playing on for the past few weeks. So Greg Abbott is probably not going to share Gov. Perry's relative comfort with addressing complex problems with crisp, politically expedient 10-word answers ... which will (sadly) make him less well-suited to be America's unfortunate addition to the dumbed down politics of the 30-second television sound bite.
All of this is not to say that he will not thrive in the office, though. I suspect that he will. For all of Perry's sublime political talent, nuance was never his thing, and it showed. Abbott may not be less conservative, but he will sound different when he makes policy arguments. Similar policies, but more nuance, fewer overtly partisan talking points, and fewer comments about things like say, secession. So, I guess you could say Greg Abbott's politics will look a bit more like those of Gov. George W. Bush than his successor. Hmm...