Texodus and the Democratization of the Lone Star State

On Monday morning, Representative Kenny Marchant became the fourth Republican congressman from Texas to announce that he won’t run for re-election in 2020. Here is what you need to know about why.

After a generation of dominance in Texas, Republicans are now facing the same challenges as their counterparts in other parts of the country: By linking themselves to President Trump and his incendiary brand of nationalist politics, they are alienating the sort of suburban voters who were once among the Republican Party’s most dependable supporters.

This realignment, combined with Texas’s increasing diversity, propelled two freshman Democrats, Representatives Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher, to victory last year in districts anchored around Dallas and Houston…

The same demographic forces were also looming for Mr. Marchant, whose district sprawls to the northwest of Dallas. After winning re-election by 33 percentage points in 2014, his margin of victory fell to 17 percentage points in 2016 and then plunged to just three points last year. Similarly, while Mitt Romney won the district by 22 points, Mr. Trump carried it by only six points in 2016.

As Michael Li points out, Marchant’s district (TX-24) is one of only two held by Republicans that were won by Beto O’Rourke during his senate race in 2018. The other is the district represented by Will Hurd (TX-23), who announced his retirement last week. It is also important to note that Marchant’s district has become 61 percent more non-white than when it was drawn in 2011.

After Hurd announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report coined a term for what is happening.

As Martin Longman wrote last week, Texodus is making it increasingly difficult for Republicans to have any chance of winning back the House. But beyond that, here is what the Texas GOP was already facing coming out of the 2018 midterms.

  • Tarrant County, the last GOP urban center flipped blue.
  • 12 state house seats flipped, which robbed GOP of their once reliable supermajority.
  • 2 state senate seats flipped, robbing GOP of their once reliable supermajority.
  • 2 Congressional seats flipped.
  • 6 Congressional seats held below 55% margins.
  • All 59 incumbent GOP judges in Houston lost their seats.
  • Harris County Clerk (Houston) flipped into voter expansion advocate’s hands.
  • And finally, record turnout that blew past every internal GOP estimate.

I have personally been writing about the prospect of Texas turning blue for a long time—sometimes to great derision. But over the last week, a lot of pundits are beginning to recognize what is happening in the Lone Star State. Wasserman suggests that the 2020 Democratic nominee could do as well in Texas as they do in Florida. Here’s Sean Trende from RealClearPolitics.

But Texas isn’t just going to “flip” to blue in one election cycle. As Christopher Hooks has documented, “the Republicanization of Texas took nearly a half century to enact.” Similarly, the Democratization of Texas, if you will, has been underway for a while now and will take years to completely materialize. There are several factors contributing to the change.

Demographics

Texas is one of only five states in which non-Hispanic whites are in the minority. The other four are Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Nevada—all of which are solidly blue. It is probably just a matter of time before Texas joins them.

When it comes to the Hispanic population in Texas, Latino Decisions found that overall turnout surged in Texas from 2014 to 2018 in heavily Hispanic counties, especially those along the border:

  • Dallas County — 86 percent increase.
    Hidalgo — 105 percent increase.
    Cameron County — 115 percent increase.
    El Paso County — 168 percent increase.

Simon Rosenberg pointed to another demographic change in Texas that should have Republicans worried.

[A]nother demographic trend that is bringing dramatic change to American politics should also concern Republicans about the future of Texas – the rise of the millennials. Since 2008, the number of voting age millennials in America has increased from 35 million to 70 million. To put this in perspective, the average Congressional district now has 160,000 millennials, with 80,000 of them having turned voting age since Barack Obama was elected president. Like Hispanics, millennials have been voting about two to one Democratic.

In the 2018 midterm elections, 18-44 year-olds in Texas voted for O’Rourke over Cruz by a margin of 19 points. But it’s not just millennials. Those who were 18-29 years old gave O’Rourke a 41 percent margin.

Population Growth

As I’ve noted previously, several metro areas in Texas lead the country in terms of population growth. Since urban and suburban areas tend to be more liberal than rural areas, that growth has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of people voting Democratic in every major urban area.

Beto O’Rourke’s Senate Race

It is a fact that O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz. But Hooks noted that prior to that race, the dominance of the GOP in Texas meant the decimation of the Democratic Party’s structural supports, branding the party as a perpetual loser. While the full payoff might not be evident for years, O’Rourke’s candidacy means that they have good reason to start building again.

Donald Trump

As Republicans increasingly hitch their wagon to the Trump train, they are beginning to lose support among suburban voters. That is especially true when it comes to women.

Carol Reed knows this all too well. She’s been a Republican political consultant in Texas for more than three decades. She helped build the Texas Republican Party from a collection that could caucus in a phone booth to the powerhouse it is today.

Reed says what’s happening to the GOP nationally is happening in Texas, too.

“He has turned off women all over America,” Reed says, “and it really doesn’t matter whether you are an R or a D. We’re no different when it comes to that kind of thing. So, the soccer mom today, while she cares more about economic stuff, there comes a point where there’s a bridge too far, and I’m seeing already in North Dallas a couple of the ‘nasty woman’ T-shirts.”

The president’s embrace of cruelty as a policy is even affecting white evangelical women in Texas.

All of this has some pundits refreshing their line about the need for Democrats to nominate a more centrist candidate because it could help them win Texas in 2020. There’s not much doubt that a far left candidate could hurt their chances to do so. But the advice to go centrist is a way to harken back to the kind of blue dogs who tended to dominate Democratic politics in red states previously. That ignores the realignment that is happening in many southern states. Take a look at how Hooks described O’Rourke.

O’Rourke wasn’t a wild-eyed lefty or a dead-eyed centrist…[He] was a Texas liberal, a member of a long-standing political tradition. The main difference between O’Rourke and previous Democratic candidates is that people liked him a lot. When he spoke to crowds, he talked of our obligations to one another, patriotism, public service, and investment in public projects…

Issues have never been the issue for Texas Democrats, just the same as Democrats nationally. Their problem has been putting together a coalition, and O’Rourke’s charisma and positivity gave people on both the left and in the middle a reason to invest in him.

If you remember, it was this moment that launched O’Rourke’s senate campaign into the stratosphere.

Stacey Abrams didn’t win her governor’s race either—perhaps due to Republican voter suppression. But she, too, recognized the political realignment going on in the south. Here’s how Ed Kilgore described it:

But the very different strategy pursued by Stacey Abrams looks like the future of biracial Democratic politics in the South: a strongly progressive (though not abrasively so) African-American who can expand turnout among a rising minority population while still appealing to increasingly liberal white Democratic and independent voters as well.

Democrats can win in Texas and the south, not by patterning themselves after the blue dogs of the past or by engaging in the far left politics that tend to dominate discussions on Twitter. They can do so by building the kind of coalition described by Hooks and Kilgore.

One final note about the Democratization of Texas: we can be sure that the Texas GOP will not go quietly into that good night. They have two paths to chose from when it comes to what is happening in their state. The first is to double-down on Trump’s strategy of maximizing voter turn-out among their white base via racism, while attempting to suppress the Democratic vote and gerrymander districts to favor their candidates. The other option would be for them to recognize what is happening and adapt to form a broader coalition. The current Texodus of House candidates indicates that they are going to choose the former. So, the realignment of the Lone Star state is going to be a bumpy ride.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.