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More on the possible Trump effect in Texas

I have three things to say about this.

While one should hesitate to feed the megalomania, there is no point in denying that there is a meaningful distinction between pre-Trump and post-Trump politics in the United States. The mogul turned presidential candidate has not been the sole author of this shift — he has, to adapt a phrase, made history, though not in conditions that he himself has created. But the distinction is a very real one, with real consequences for party politics in Texas.

One aspect of the post-Trump political world — particularly if either Trump or the alternative whose path he has cleared, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, should win the GOP nomination — is the demise of GOP efforts to attract Latino voters to the party or, at least, to avoid alienating them in large numbers. Should abandoning these efforts in the service of mobilizing the faction of the GOP base most energized by the prospect of deporting large numbers of illegal immigrants become the core approach of the post-Trump GOP (including if its standard bearer is Cruz), it will likely render the Texas GOP’s perennial if Janus-faced efforts to attract Latinos much more difficult.

While low voter turnout among Latinos and the comparative conservatism of the Latino population in Texas make a sudden political earthquake highly unlikely, it is equally unlikely that the Texas GOP can completely insulate itself from an intensely nativist turn by the national Republican Party.

While Democrats have always been skeptical of GOP efforts to attract Latino voters, those efforts were real. Think back two years to Greg Abbott’s candidacy to succeed Rick Perry as governor of Texas. The then-attorney general hit familiar themes in his announcement speech — Second Amendment rights, small government, low taxes and so on — on a hot July afternoon at San Antonio’s La Villita. But the choice of the Alamo City for his campaign kick-off took on stronger significance when a few months later Abbott participated in a joint announcement of the launch of the Republican National Committee’s Texas Hispanic Engagement Team, meant to court Latinos in the upcoming election.

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Greg Abbott has certainly issued his share of harsh rhetoric on border security and illegal immigration, and even sued the Obama immigration over those executive orders, but the contrast in tone between the approaches now dominating the GOP presidential contest and the imperatives, however conflicted, at work in the 2014 Abbott campaign for governor reflect a familiar choice. Both Abbott’s predecessors faced the same need to reconcile the realities of demographic change and the ever-increasing pressure from the GOP base to take a harder line on immigration.

Donald Trump, with his now defining promise to “build a great wall on our southern border” and to “terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration,” is steering the national party toward a different, markedly short-term strategy for managing this dilemma — by siding solely with the base instead of attempting to reconcile competing interests.

What the base wants is very clear — so clear that the origins of Trump’s (and Cruz’s) strategy are no mystery: As we’ve previously written on the subject, concerns about immigration, consistently rated as the most important problem facing Texas, have long been evident in conjunction with the embrace of a bundle of restrictive attitudes, from the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants and opposition to sanctuary cities to support for English-only proposals. These poll results have been driven by large majorities of Republican voters. Erstwhile presidential hopeful Jeb Bush famously said that immigration was an act of love; among Texas Republicans, 74 percent, apparently less lovingly, think that undocumented immigrants should be deported immediately.

This choice by the leading GOP presidential candidates has fed a new manifestation of the speculation that first swept Democratic circles in the wake of the 2010 census, in a form borne of the post-Trump world: Could Trump’s likely claiming of the GOP nomination put Texas in play for the Democrats in 2016, as Latinos flocked to the polls to vote against him?

In short, the answer is no.

1. I asked that same question, and while I’m a tad bit more optimistic, I agree that it would be a huge stretch. I do think a non-trivial number of Republicans would refuse to vote for Trump, and that Democrats would get at least a modest boost in turnout, but the gap is pretty damn big. Still, even if the state isn’t in play, if some Republicans stay home and some more people come out to vote Democratic, the potential for gains in the Legislature and at the county level increases. It wouldn’t take much to tip Harris County into solidly blue territory, and considering how close Fort Bend County was in 2008, it wouldn’t take that much to flip it, either. Democrats running for the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals would stand to benefit as well. Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to carry Texas for this. Forty-five percent of the vote for her would likely be more than enough. It’s not just about the Presidential race.

2. What about if Ted Cruz manages to win the nomination? Cruz is fairly toxic himself, but he did win the Republican primary here as well as being elected Senator in 2012 against a badly outspent opponent. Unlike Trump, I doubt Cruz will have much trouble getting establishment Republican support here – indeed, for the most part, he already has it, though not all of it just yet. If he wins the nomination through convention shenanigans, some Trump supporters may sit the election out, but if I had to guess I’d say that effect would be smaller; similarly, while I think Cruz will provide some extra incentives for Democrats to turn out, I don’t think he’d be quite the draw as Trump. I’d certainly be rooting for Cruz if I were a Texas Republican.

3. Which brings us back to Trump and the question of what the establishment does with him if he is the nominee, as he is still likely to be. Some prominent Republicans, like Jerry Patterson, are pointedly not on the Trump bandwagon. It’s not hard to imagine the likes of Joe Straus and Ed Emmett declining to support Trump. Others will get on board whether they like it or not. I’m very curious to see what Greg Abbott does with a Trump nomination. Especially on immigration matters, there’s not that much difference between Trump and Abbott, it’s just that Abbott has managed to put a much friendlier face on his noxious policies. Having Trump at the top of the ticket could be quite clarifying, and as authors/pollsters Jim Henson and Joshua Blank note, it could have a longer term effect. I don’t know what we’re going to get in Texas if Trump is the nominee, but I don’t see it being good for the GOP here.

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