Analysis: Abbott's 'steel wall' is one more spectacle as he desperately panders to the GOP base

Gov. Greg Abbott touted a cordon of DPS and military vehicles parked along a portion of the Texas border as a "steel wall." - Facebook / Greg Abbott
Facebook / Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott touted a cordon of DPS and military vehicles parked along a portion of the Texas border as a "steel wall."
Give it to Gov. Greg Abbott. The man knows how to create a spectacle.

As federal immigration agents worked this week to deal with the recent flood of migrants into South Texas, processing some and dispatching others back their home countries, state troopers cobbled together a miles-long string of patrol vehicles that the Republican governor touted as a "steel wall" — the ultimate anti-immigration deterrent. 

“One day, there were countless coming across the border, then that very same day the Texas Department of Public Safety put up all these DPS vehicles,” Abbott declared during a press conference Tuesday. “And suddenly, in an instant, people stopped crossing the border in this location."

That's quite a boast.

Especially since it's unlikely DPS and the Texas State Guard possess enough vehicles to park along the 1,954 miles of border Texas shares with Mexico. Not to mention, both of those entities probably want those cars and trucks back soon so they can go about the actual work they were created to do.

Just the same, it's a boast that sounds readymade — along with its snappy-yet-imposing "steel wall" moniker — for ad nauseam repetition on TV spots Abbott will trot during the heat of the 2022 campaign.

While those ads aren't yet flashing across screens, it's abundantly clear what one of their central themes will be: Abbott is the only gubernatorial candidate who can stand up to liberal President Joe Biden and stop more of those poor, brown and unfamiliar people from coming into the state.

After all, Abbott has repeatedly blasted Biden's approach to immigration as an "open-border policy." Never mind that the president is flying many of the migrants amassed under a bridge near Del Rio back to their home countries and taking flak from members of his own party for doing so.

But facts are irrelevant in Abbott's brand of political theater. It's all about looking and talking tough in a bid to appeal to the nativist — some would say "racist" — Trump voters whom the governor sees as key to cementing the GOP nomination ahead of the 2022 general election.

Indeed, before the "steel wall" was a glinting DPS patrol car bumper in Abbott's eye, he held a shambolic news conference to air unfounded claims that children were being abused at a temporary migrant shelter in San Antonio. Following that, he began arresting and prosecuting migrants on minor state offenses such as criminal trespass, and he used COVID-19 as an excuse to order state troopers to pull over vehicles containing asylum seekers.

Have those moves grabbed headlines? Sure. But as evidenced by the 15,000 people who amassed under a Del Rio bridge, they've done jack shit to stop people from crossing the border to seek safety and stability in the U.S.

They've also been largely exposed as the cruel stage props they are.

To date, state investigators have turned up no evidence of child endangerment at the San Antonio migrant center. Reports show that arresting migrants on state charges has only compounded the chaos and confusion along the border. And last month, a federal judge blocked Abbott's order asking troopers to pull over vehicles carrying migrants.

Just like the facts, though, such considerations are irrelevant to Abbott. He and his advisors have outlined his strategy, and it's clear they're ready to construct one spectacle after another to keep it front and center as Texas hurtles toward 2022.

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