I’d almost feel pity for them, if they hadn’t brought this on themselves.
Leading GOP elected officials — including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — condemned the words but continued to back their candidate, and pro-Trump grassroots forces appeared set in their support for the party nominee. But mostly younger GOP operatives are growing increasingly furious with party leaders who stay loyal.
“The Republican Party in Texas has jumped the shark,” said Jenifer Sarver, a former George W. Bush administration official. “Strong condemnations of Donald Trump, while still supporting his candidacy, ring hollow, cynical and hypocritical.”
In dozens of interviews with Texas Republican operatives over the weekend and into Monday, many who work in Texas politics said the state’s elected GOP officials are so scared of alienating Trump’s base that nothing he could say or do would dislodge their political support.
They calculate that any Trump heterodoxy now could translate into electoral suicide in the 2018 GOP primary, where Cruz, Abbott and Patrick will all be up for re-election, along with the entire U.S. House delegation.
But the long-term consequences of enabling Trump, some younger Republicans fear, could prove dangerous to the health of the party.
Otherwise, 22 statewide and congressional officeholders were radio silent through Monday, and not one Texas federal or state officeholder who previously endorsed Trump changed that stance.
“There’s no good answer — I’d stay quiet,” said Vinny Minchillo, a Texas Republican ad maker. “There’s no upside to making any kind of comment or quote. I’d just keep my powder dry.”
Trump’s Sunday night debate performance only hardened support for him. In a catharsis for the base, he confronted Clinton with accusations that have floated for decades in conservative media.
At the same time, he brought to the debate three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and another woman, the victim of a child rapist whom Hillary Clinton represented as a public defender in the 1970s.
That decision only further rattled many Republicans nationwide.
Democrats are openly promising to use support for Trump against Republicans for years to come — when congressional lines shift amid redistricting next decade, and demographics could make conservative states more competitive.
“These Republicans are cut from the same cloth as Trump and you can bet they’ll be held answerable to it in future elections,” said former state Sen. Wendy Davis. “This will haunt Republicans in this election and the elections to come.”
A number of consultants interviewed worry that those sticking with Trump are not factoring in how the changing demographic winds are blowing.
“Some Republicans would rather let the party lose and expire in 30 years rather than let the next generation of Republicans start to build the party of the future,” said GOP consultant Brendan Steinhauser.
It should be noted that the infighting here isn’t just about politicians but also about communities that make up a big part of the GOP base. Evangelicals as a whole support Trump, but evangelical women and younger evangelicals, not so much. Other Republican women are not very happy about the refusal of male Republicans to cut ties with Trump. These are wounds that are not going to just heal overnight.
The real question in Texas is whether any of this represents a real threat going forward or just an unusually rocky election season. For it to be a real threat, there have to be three ingredients. First, Democratic turnout has to improve to the point where Republicans no longer feel that they have an impervious advantage. If Trump carries Texas by a smallish amount, like the six or seven points that the polls say he leads by, but the reason for that is primarily lower than usual R turnout plus a significant share of the vote going to Gary Johnson, and not because Hillary Clinton broke the four million vote barrier, then it can all be easily rationalized away as a black swan event and nothing to worry about. Democrats need to vote at a level that makes the Republican establishment think “oh, crap, there’s more of them than we thought”, or else they will feel no menace. Assuming that happens, Democrats need to find a decent slate of candidates to run in 2018, and last but not least there needs to be an ongoing well-financed and organized campaign to remind all those voters that their Republican leaders clung to Donald Trump to the bitter end. For now, I’ll just settle for the decent vote total.
More on this from the Chron, which focuses more on this year:
Echoing sentiments of Republican party insiders, Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist, said if Trump boosts Democratic votes in some down-ballot races, as he expects, Hurd and several Texas House Republican incumbents who are also in competitive races could be in trouble. Many wealthy Republican donors in Texas who were convinced by party leaders to back Trump have also become increasingly uneasy with his rhetoric and have slowed the cash flow, officials said.
“The (U.S.) Senate at this point is very likely to go Democratic, and it’s also true that state legislative districts will be in play – especially the Republican House seats that arc across the north side of Dallas,” Jillson said. “Instead of six or seven Democrats taking House seats from Republicans, I could see it in the low to mid-teens. And that will change the dynamic of the legislative session next year.”
Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist, said the same dynamic could happen in the Houston area. “There are three things to watch: Democrats will turn out of respect for the Clintons’ legacy, or out of fear that Trump could get elected, and that Republicans may be so fed up with all this, then they just won’t vote,” he said.
“That’s where the down-ballot effect will come,” he said.
Texas Republicans who watched the Sunday debate said it will go both ways.
“The (Sunday) debate didn’t really address any issues. It was just fighting,” Brenda Soto, 43, a Houston sales manager, said Monday while visiting the Texas Capitol. “I’m a Republican. I’m going to hold my nose and vote for (Trump) because I’m more concerned about national security and border security and the economy than I am his potty mouth. Men say disgusting things like that sometimes.”
But Sheila LeMaster, 52, a Katy medical records consultant and Republican, said she intends to stay home.
“Neither one of them should be president. Period,” she said. “If that hurts the rest of the Republicans, so be it. The party has brought this on itself.”
I’ve fooled around with the numbers enough to know that it would take a significant shift to make more than a handful of Legislative seats competitive, but if the national polls keep going the way they have then that possibility can’t be ruled out. Really, it’s people like Sheila LeMaster that Texas Republicans should fear. If there are enough like her who really do stay home, then they could be in a world of hurt. Early voting is going to tell quite the story this year. TPM has more.