Analysis: How Gov. Greg Abbott's attack on "defunding the police" has divided Texas Democrats

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Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, left, and then-Speaker Dennis Bonnen before signing a Texas Backs the Blue Pledge at the Austin Police Association on Sept. 10, 2020. Pivoting from a focus on racism and policing to an emphasis on police funding and public safety creates cross-pressures for Texans of color — particularly those who are Democrats. Credit: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via USA TODAY NETWORK

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott made it official in his State of the State speech last month, it was clear that policing or, more euphemistically, “public safety,” was emerging as a major partisan flashpoint in the current legislative session.

Republican candidates pounced on the “defund the police” slogan that emerged from protests following the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police last summer, and it has become an article of faith among both Democrats and Republicans that this — and the “Back the Blue” response to it — contributed to GOP candidates’ ability to hold the line in the 2020 election in Texas.

Some fundamental premises about Democratic voters’ views of this are oversimplified or just plain wrong. Whether the assumptions result from poor political communication by hapless Democrats, opportunistic and effective framing by Republicans or some mixture, Democrats created an opportunity for Abbott to amplify a divide in their coalition. Before that, the overwhelming focus — in the wake of the GOP’s generally poor handling of the pandemic and Donald Trump’s graceless defeat — had been on the divisions within the Republican Party.