If you're scratching your head about why so many Republican governors are suddenly falling all over themselves to announce they're sending a handful or so of their state's National Guard troops or law enforcement officers to help out on our Southern border, you're looking for rational answers. The trouble is, there aren't any.
It all comes down to two words: Republican elections. And, no, it's not an original idea. It's one Texas Gov. Greg Abbott borrowed from his idol, the former president. Then Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey chimed in and the two sent a letter to other governors asking for help: "We respectfully but urgently request that you send all available law enforcement resources to the border in defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity," they wrote on June 10.
Their Republican colleagues in several states, including Florida, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas and Idaho, jumped onboard, announcing they are sending state troopers or National Guard troops to the border. (Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Tennessee troops are already there and have been since October.)
What's less clear is what the out-of-state help can and will do — beyond provide GOP theater to further Fox News and the GOP governors' talking points about the Biden Administration's "failure" to address the "border crisis."
We've seen this movie before. These GOP governors even picked up the former guy's habit of enlisting OPM — other people's money. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced that sending the 50 National Guard troops from her state will be funded by a $1 million donation from GOP donor and Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson.
But we're not just talking about the Tennessee million OPM. On May 31, Abbott declared a state of disaster and directed law enforcement to help prevent "criminal activity." In June, he announced he would use $250 million in state funds and "crowdsourced private funds" to continue to build barriers along the border.
But consider: This is mostly token help for the 3,800 National Guard and active duty troops already there. Idaho, for instance, is sending five state troopers for 21 days. Arkansas will send up to 40 people for 90 days. Nebraska has agreed to "temporarily" send "a limited number" of state police and troopers. Florida is sending "more than 50" state and county law enforcement members.
One pundit, Hayes Brown of MSNBC, has described it as "theater" and "a rush of gubernatorial one-upmanship."
It started with the former president's fear-mongering about migrant "caravans" just ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. It was, of course, just another Trump and GOP lie — this one designed to frighten GOP voters into turning out at the polls. Democrats still won control of the House.
In reality, when Trump in April 2018 first signed the proclamation to send National Guard troops to the border in a bid to cut down on illegal immigration, border crossings were at the lowest levels in decades, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics.
Then in February 2019, in the run-up to the 2020 election, active-duty troops were brought in to conduct aerial surveillance and lay barbed wire. In June of 2020, just five months before the election, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper extended the deployment for a year, starting in October. That's when the Tennessee Guard deployment of about 300 troops began.
Though it sounded Trump "tough," the new extension order actually lessened the number of deployed troops by 1,500, authorizing only 4,000 to deploy. And despite all of the fear-mongering, Trump lost the election, and the Senate gained two new Democratic members from Georgia.
In May, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Congress that he expected the mission, currently with 3,800 troops, would end this September.
As Hayes posits, "That would have made perfect sense. After all, President Joe Biden even revoked the state of emergency at the Southern border Trump had declared in 2019 to help fund his border wall, so why keep up a deployment that has taxed a National Guard stretched thin between the pandemic and the Jan. 6 riot?"
Except DHS requested the mission continue. From a bureaucratic standpoint, if the Defense Department is there to fill gaps in staffing, why not ask to keep thousands of extra hands around to help?
And, notes Hayes: "Politically, for the Biden administration, ending the deployment would be a Christmas-in-July present for the GOP officials launching bad faith attacks on the White House's alleged 'weakness' on immigration."
That brings us to today, and back to the GOP's mercenaries. After all, aren't mercenaries what the South Dakota troops are if their deployment is funded by a Republican donor in Tennessee?
Military.com on July 2 wrote: "A wealthy Republican mega-donor gave South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem $1 million to cover the estimated cost of deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and both the National Guard Bureau and Defense Department are staying silent on whether this sets a precedent that military units are for rent."
Actually, it's not so much that they are for rent. It's that they are staged window dressing — theater, as Hayes correctly named it. And the GOP needs all the theater it can muster. Because it has no new or real ideas.
The GOP is all about outrage. Never about solutions.