Why Republicans Are Right to Be Worried About Texas

At this point, Christopher Hooks has become to Texas politics what Jon Ralston is to Nevada politics: the go-to analyst. Long before the national media noticed Beto O’Rourke, Hooks wrote the definitive piece about his campaign against Ted Cruz. After O’Rourke’s narrow loss, he declared that Texas was now purple, but went on to use the “Republicanization” of that state to caution against those who assumed that change would come quickly.

Recently, Hooks shifted his focus away from what is happening with the Democratic Party in Texas in order to discuss the deeper roots of what some have called “Texodus” and the challenges faced by the Republican Party in his home state.

The Republican Party of Texas appears to be molting. Last week, Representative Bill Flores became the 10th Texas Republican in the House to announce his retirement since the 2016 election, and the fifth this year. Others are expected this year…

This has been branded “Texodus,” proof the Republican Party is running scared.

Many liberals tend to think that the Republican Party is fairly monolithic. But any state as large as Texas is going to require a coalition of various groups in order to dominate the political landscape the way Republicans have in that state.

The Republican Party of Texas, too, was a patchwork. When it became truly dominant, it grew to encompass a variety of seemingly contradictory political tendencies: good-ol’-boy rural conservatives, big-city chambers of commerce, fire-breathing evangelical warriors, white-shoe professionals, white-pride populists and a surprising number of nonwhite voters. On top of that, Texas encompasses a bewildering political environment that consists of five of the nation’s 20 largest cities, each its own planet, and vast rural areas that have little in common with one another.

That coalition started to unravel several years ago.

Before 2014, some Republicans sought to help undocumented Texans. After, the party retreated into an increasingly grotesque nativism. Christian activists went to war with the business lobby. The state spent the better part of a year debating what bathrooms transgender kids should use. Slowly, the “serious” people in the party started heading for the door — or were thrown out the window.

Donald Trump compounded the problem — he’s outside a few of the main traditions of Texas conservatism, and he’s surprisingly unpopular in the state. Many observers credit him with the forced retreat of the Republican Party from Texas suburbs.

You might remember that when the Bush family reigned in Texas, they reached out to Hispanic voters. As a result, George W. Bush won 40 percent of their vote in 2004. According to a recent poll by Univision, Donald Trump garners only 16 percent support nationally from registered Hispanic voters and 19 percent from the same group in Texas.

When it comes to those “serious” people in the business lobby, Wade Goodwyn explained how, in 2015, they went to war with Texas politicians over their refusal to expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare.

The problem is that in hating the Affordable Care Act, the state is leaving on the table as much as $100 billion of federal money over 10 years — money that could pay for health insurance for more than 1 million of its working poor.

This is driving many in the state’s business community bonkers.

“It’s our money that we are sending to Washington, D.C.,” says Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, which includes many of the state’s richest and most powerful business owners. “We are not getting it back,” he says. “We pay for it with corporate income tax, we pay for it with our personal income tax and we pay it in the fact that our premiums are higher than they would be if everyone was insured.”

Those are just two examples of how the extremism of the current Republican Party is fracturing the coalition that led to their dominance in Texas. Christopher Hooks concludes that, “for Democrats, this is what a political opportunity looks like.” According to Patrick Svitek, they are working to take advantage of that opportunity. Ahead of Thursday’s presidential debate in Houston, Texas Democrats released a 10-page plan detailing their 2020 strategy.

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and “are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year,” according to the plan…

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party’s count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party’s current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

It is important to note that Republicans have a similar effort underway, spearheaded by a Super PAC that is prepared to spend $25 million. According to David Drucker at the Washington Examiner, they’re worried about the very things we’ve been discussing for a while now.

Republican insiders in Texas are worried about the impact of a potential political realignment that could see affluent, college-educated voters in the suburbs permanently defect from the GOP to the Democratic Party. Additionally, they fret that thousands of Americans who move to Texas every month, attracted by the booming economy and low cost of living, will bring their liberal politics with them.

When it comes to presidential politics, Texas is—as they say—the “big enchilada.” If it turns blue, the GOP will be locked out of the presidency until the next great political realignment takes place. That is what has Republicans so worried and Democrats determined to make it the biggest battleground state of 2020.

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Nancy LeTourneau

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