There are two ways to run a campaign and ensure victory: run unopposed, or run scared. Republicans in Texas seem to have gotten the message. First, about that alleged slip up by the GOP where they accidentally emailed a 2020 strategy paper inadvertently to Democrats and newspapers. Although indicative of “amateur hour,” there was nothing in that document that Democrats had alreeady been saying and nothing that Democrats should have been surprised about. Texas Republicans were targeting six north Texas state districts. If Democrats did not know that already, then they were inept. Political “dirty tricks” are common and both sides play that game. If Democrats are stupid enough to leave internet domain names vulnerable to purchase by the opposition, shame on them. As for GOP concerns about Trump, one can assume that Trump figures into the equation in every state. To the Democrats, this signals panic on the part of the GOP in Texas.
There is also the issue of the number of retiring Republican Congressmen from the state. To date, a total of 20 Republicans are retiring with six of them from Texas. Some are referring to this as “Texodus” for the GOP in the state. What is lost in that mash-up of gloom is the fact that more than 50 Republicans have declared their candidacy for those soon-to-be vacant seats. In short, the GOP bench is deep and as they say, “Out with the old, in with the new.”
Among some Democrats, there is still skepticism over whether they can make inroads in Texas come 2020. There has been a massive drive to register voters by the state GOP. One group- Engage Texas- plans to spend over $25 million in an effort to register 1 million Republicans by Election Day then get them out to vote. Still, this is a far cry from the glory days for Texas Republicans. They once boasted the most cohesive and powerful delegations in DC and chaired more committees than Representatives from any other state. It did not hurt that native son, George W. Bush, was in the White House at the time.
The Cruz-O’Rourke race was relatively too close for comfort for Texas Republicans. But in reality, the “problems” for the GOP in Texas began before Trump, Cruz, or O’Rourke. Any state as large as Texas is going to need a wide coalition of various groups to dominate state politics. The Texas GOP was a patchwork of rural conservatives, big city Chamber of Commerce types, fire-breathing evangelicals, white-shoe professionals, some white pride elements, and yes- minorities. There is also the geography involved. Texas has five of the nation’s 20 largest cities with each a planet unto itself. They are separated by wide swaths of rural territory that have common interests.
Before Trump came on the scene, moderates within the party began to battle staunch conservatives over illegal immigration. Christian activists went to war with the business lobby. The legislature spent more than a year debating transgenders in bathrooms. To wit, any problems with the GOP in Texas began before Trump which leads to the question of Trump’s chances come 2020. In 2004, Bush won with 40% of the Hispanic vote in Texas. Today, Trump’s approval rating with Hispanics in Texas stands at 19%. Polls are one thing, but it must remembered that in 2016, according to a CNN exit poll, Trump pulled in 34% of the Latino vote in Texas.
Outside of Texas, putting the state in the Democratic column seems exciting because of their electoral votes. By the same token, Texas is a large state and an expensive one. Hence, there are cheaper targets out there in 2020 and Democrats, who trail Trump in fundraising by a long shot, have only limited resources. Thus far, the Trump campaign has spent more in Texas on digital advertising than any other state.
It may be also be the case that many of these pundits are reading too much into the O’Rourke-Cruz race from 2018. Five weeks before the election, O’Rourke had 18 full-time coordinators scattered throughout the state. In the month before the election, these people brought in thousands of volunteers and paid operatives into the campaign- 821 in all. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, employed a field staff of only about 18 throughout the campaign and instead invested heavily in advertisement.
Additionally, Tom Steyer invested millions into Texas which was designed to build a staff for the 2020 presidential run. His efforts bore fruit on college campuses where student turnout increased over 300%. Most of those voters went all in for O’Rourke. Whether Democrats can reproduce that effort, especially now that Steyer’s millions are diverted elsewhere, is another story.
But, let’s look at the final result: Ted Cruz did win and O’Rourke has been rendered politically impotent. Cruz became the first Republican to lose all of the state’s metropolitan areas since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Unlike Goldwater, he won. Democrats are looking at the 2018 results where O’Rourke racked up 790,000 more votes than Cruz in the metro areas. Any Democratic presidential candidate will have to replicate and build upon those numbers to prevail.
The wave of GOP retirements from the House delegation will further draw Democratic resources and force them to make a decision as concerns Texas. Should they go all in for Texas’ electoral votes, or should they target John Cornyn, up for reelection, and/or put their resources into winning some of those vacant House seats to offset anticipated losses elsewhere? Their resources are limited so they have to think long and hard here. The longer they wait, the shorter their chances. Looked at objectively, Trump will probably bring out as many supporters as detractors in Texas. The real test of Democrat efforts in Texas will be in the 2022 gubernatorial race, not 2020.
Democrats cite recent polls that show Trump has a 45% approval rating in the state versus 50% disapproval. They cite the changing demographics and the all-important suburbs. They note that in the three issues that most motivate suburban women- health care, immigration, and gun control- Trump is on the wrong side of the equation.
There is, however, some overlooked facts. First, the Trump approval ratings are a year out from Election Day 2020 and stand roughly where they were before Trump won Texas by 9 points in 2016. Second, no opponent has emerged and it would be interesting to see where voters stand when the eventual Democrat opponent comes out swinging for draconian gun control laws, Medicare For All, a Green New Deal and all the other socialist visions that dance in their heads. Third, about 50% of the Hispanic voting population lives in the five largest counties in Texas meaning the other half lives outside these liberal islands.
Are there areas where the GOP in Texas can improve? Of course there are, just like any other state. Regardless of the so-called Trump effect, he will not be President forever. Positioning the state party for 2024 and beyond by recruiting talented youthful candidates is a priority. The Texas Young Republicans organization is one of the largest of its type in the country. They have a hero in freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw who has raised over $3 million for his reelection campaign thus far.
There are three other considerations in 2020. The first is the fact that the GOP legislature has passed a law eliminating straight-ticket voting which has drawn the ire of Democrats who believe this hurts their chances down-ballot. Secondly, voter fraud is always a concern in states as large in population as Texas. They do have a voter ID law, but it is offset by the vote-by-mail process. Although the legislature did work on the deficiencies in 2017, they passed up an opportunity to close other avenues of exploitation. For example, campaign workers under the guise of providing “voter assistance” still have direct access to a voter’s ballot. Finally, after the 2020 Census, Texas is expected to pick up at least two House seats.
Next: Montana and Idaho