Abbott and DeSantis, both lawyers by trade, have followed similar political playbooks over the past few years when it comes to showing their conservative bona fides, from banning mask mandates in schools, to calling for harsh clamp-downs on undocumented immigrants.
The rivalry shows how Republicans in two of the biggest states are under pressure to pursue the types of populist efforts that would please Donald Trump and his loyalists, even at the risk of alienating moderates and businesses worried about recruiting candidates turned off by restrictive social policies. Hard-line approaches like curtailing school rules aimed at coronavirus safety are losers in polls, but rules framed as expanding “freedom” serve as an extension of Trump’s fire-up-the-base strategy. Far from turning the page on Trump’s GOP, both men are trying to out-Trump one another.
“In many ways, they are frenemies,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. The two share many policy priorities, but “on the other hand, they both are smart enough to realize that they may be trying to reach the same goal.”