This is a really bad idea.
At least for the time being, the Republican primary is the decisive election for the governance of Texas.
In contrast, the most pressing issue facing Houston-area Democratic primary voters will be whether they prefer safe mainstream candidates or provocative and potentially damaging outsiders as the party’s long-shot nominees for U.S. senator and agriculture commissioner, and as the Democratic candidate for Harris County district attorney.
Opinion polls reveal that in recent years, a large majority of the Texans who vote in the GOP primary elections are very conservative. At the same time, many of the most conservative advocacy organizations have become increasingly sophisticated in monitoring and evaluating politicians and aggressive in backing candidates they support and in attacking those they oppose. For better or worse, the days of some elected officials being able to successfully maintain separate and distinct Austin and district personas appear to be numbered.
This political context has created strong incentives for GOP candidates to avoid allowing any credible rival to move to their right. In turn, the goal of not being ideologically outflanked often generates a centrifugal force that pulls the candidates further and further to the right. Only in Texas do candidates feel it necessary to vehemently deny claims that they are moderate, pragmatic or reasonable.
The GOP lieutenant governor and attorney general primaries, in which candidates are trying to outflank each other with issues popular with the base GOP constituency such as illegal immigration and abortion, are prime examples of this phenomenon.
For every action, there’s a reaction, and some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right. These pragmatic center-right conservatives view their “movement” conservative brethren, commonly called the tea party, as excessively ideological and obstructionist. They fear the latter’s rhetoric and actions jeopardize the state’s continued economic success as well as the Republican Party’s long-term dominance in the Lone Star State.
Texans who wish to take a side in this GOP civil war, or who simply want to have a greater say in the direction of public policy in Texas during the latter half of the decade, should seriously consider participating by voting early, by mail or on Election Day in the March 4 and May 27 (runoff) Republican primaries.
In the competitive statewide races, including those for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner, there exist notable differences among the candidates in terms of their ideological position, policy profile and vision for the future of the Texas GOP. Similar differences exist in a myriad of contests at the legislative district and local levels. Of course, in many races, to uncover these differences, you have to wipe away the near-identical “strong conservative” body paint the candidates have covered themselves with. But once you review each candidate’s record, the individuals and groups supporting them and their platform, you will find in most instances that they are not all peas from the same pod.
Where to even begin with this?
1. To say that “some Texas Republicans are now trying to pull the party back to the center-right” is a giant copout. Who are they, what are they doing, and what influence do they have? The fact that Jones doesn’t cite even a single name or organization is telling. Sure, there is some pushback going on in some local races – see, for example, the primary challenge to first term teabagger extraordinaire Rep. Jonathan Stickland in HD92, or the fight for Harris County GOP Chair – but if there’s something like this happening at the statewide level, it’s not apparent to me.
2. I’ll stipulate that there are candidates for Lite Guv and Attorney General – one in each race – that have a track record of mostly pragmatic, non-crazy governance. Both of them are running as fast as they can away from those records, since they correctly recognize that their records are obstacles to overcome in their current races. Note also that Jones did not name the candidates he had in mind. I’ll venture a guess that one reason he didn’t name names is because he knows what would happen if he did: Every other candidate in those races would pounce on his proclamation that so-and-so is secretly a moderate and would govern as one if elected, and the candidates themselves would then be forced to respond by making statements along the lines of “I am not a moderate! I eat moderates for breakfast and gnaw on their bones for a late night snack!” As for the Comptroller’s race, I have no idea who he thinks the undercover moderate is. The three main contenders are a Senator best known for sponsoring the draconian anti-abortion bill HB2, a member of the House that Jones’ own metrics identified as one of the more conservative members last session, and a gadfly whose main claim to fame is running to the right of Rick Perry in the 2010 GOP primary for Governor. Boy, I can just feel the center-right goodness emanating from these races.
3. Believing that a candidate with a moderate/pragmatic/non-crazy past record but who is campaigning for another office as a fire-breathing Cruz-worshipping One True Conservative will revert back to his old ways once elected is just breathtakingly naive on its face. Perhaps Mark Jones also believed that Mitt Romney would have acted as if he were back to being Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney if he had been elected President. Here’s the thing: Voters don’t actually like it when a candidate they’ve elected who promised to do certain things then goes and does the exact opposite of what they said they’d do while campaigning. Just as legislators can’t pretend to be one thing in Austin and another in their home district, candidates can’t pretend to be one thing on the trail and another at the Capitol. We have the Internet now. It’s impossible to maintain two personas any more. Maybe that’s a bad thing, but as Mark Jones himself noted, it is how it is these days.
4. But let’s take Mark Jones at his word for a moment that we Democrats who foolishly think we have our own candidates to choose should go ahead and support the Secretly Moderate and Pragmatic Republicans in the Lite Guv and AG races. How do you think these candidates will react if we help propel them to victory? Will they react by saying “Boy, I sure am glad all these voters saw through my charade of being a raving loony conservative so I can go back to being the moderate pragmatic that I’ve spent the past six to twelve months vehemently denying that I am”? Or will they react by saying “I thank all those voters who recognized me as the One True Conservative in this race, and I will reward your faith in me by governing as the One True Conservative I have promised to be for you”? When one is rewarded for a certain type of behavior, one tends to continue behaving in that fashion. I don’t know about Mark Jones, but if I were to catch my dog pissing on the rug, I’d yell at him to stop doing that right now. I wouldn’t go and give him a Milk Bone on the theory that he’d always been a well-behaved dog up till now and I’m sure he intends to going back to being a good dog again once he’s finished proving his canine bona fides to the cat.
5. Finally, we Democrats do have important decisions to make in our own primary. Wendy Davis does have an opponent, after all. Whoever we nominate for US Senate will be a massive underdog, but taking our eye off the ball and letting Kesha Rogers even slip into a runoff would be a disaster of Biblical proportions, one that really would do damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. The Ag Commissioner race does matter, and Dems have a choice between two very different candidates, each with a plausible case to make for their candidacy. (I’m ignoring Jim Hogan, who doesn’t appear to be campaigning.) The Railroad Commissioner race matters. Locally, not everyone is in SD15, but you’d better believe that race is a big deal. We have to decide who we want to run against County Clerk Stan Stanart, and anyone who follows elections closely knows how important that is. And of course, unless we want to concede the DA race to Devon Anderson, it’s vitally important that everyone with any inclination to vote Democratic get out there and support Kim Ogg. If you want to vote in the GOP primary, Mark Jones, knock yourself out. Beyond that, please keep your brilliant ideas about how the rest of us should vote to yourself.