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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Are Republicans Losing Texas?

In the last several weeks, we have noted that many media outlets have been examining the connection between the Republican Party's position on immigration and the effect that position is having among Latino voters. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal draws a very interesting comparison: might Texas be headed the way California went in the 1990's?

The editorial, written by Jonathan Gurwitz, an editorial board member from the San Antonio Express-News, outlines how a similarly inflexible position on immigration among California Republicans led to its current status as a liberal bastion, an all-but-guaranteed Democratic pickup during presidential races. Gurwitz also describes the problems at the top of the Republican Party here in Texas, and those have been discussed at length, here and elsewhere.

My personal take on the situation is that it represents a true double-whammy. It would be bad enough for the leadership in the Texas GOP to be engaged in an outright war of attrition, which is more or less what happened at the end of the session between Craddick and what felt like a great many Republican legislators. Perry, as we all know, did not acquit himself well in his last election, and the relationship between Perry and Dewhurst, while not openly hostile, showed a few signs of strain during the session. The Speaker and the State House seem to represent the most overt problem, but it is my belief that there is even more turmoil at the top than one can readily see.

That would be enough to give anyone a headache. Likewise, the demographic reality of the composition of the Texas electorate also presents the Republicans with a self-inflicted wound that could be catastrophic on its own. The inability of most Texas Republicans, most notably Hutchison and Cornyn at the federal level, to compromise at all on immigration or to even approach being reasonable on the matter is a very real problem. The GOP position is untenable among Latino voters. It may have been that Republican strategists thought social issues like abortion would always trump the Republican ethos on immigration, that Latino voters would still vote Republican even though the party's leadership was actively running against amnesty, or meaningful reform, or even a path to citizenship. Media reports and polls show that this is not the case.

So, either one would be a problem worthy of serious consideration and a considerable devotion of resources. When they are combined, they become a seemingly insurmountable set of problems, the proverbial Bad Moon. An unstructured, warring leadership at the top of the party makes any meaningful shift in party stance highly unlikely, as each politico strives to stake out some real estate on issues like immigration (or possibly here, only on immigration) which will give them the support of what they think will be the most prominent section of the base after the inevitable schism. In some parts of the state, that will work out. A Congressman with a very Republican, white, older district isn't likely to lose his seat by coming out far-right on immigration.

However, any district that is heavily Latino or urban and young might start to look more appealing to smart Democratic challengers with good campaigns as they examine the numbers and discover that, say, Harris County could turn into another Dallas County soon, or more specifically within six years, as Royal Masset predicts in the editorial in question. Add in the fact that most of the population occupies urban centers, which almost always trend younger and, in Texas, have heavier concentrations of Latino voters and the result is an unhappy truth for the Texas GOP.

I don't know, necessarily, that Texas will turn as hard-core Democratic as California did, but I think, in the long term, we often forget how Republicans came to be dominant. When bread-and-butter, pocketbook, Roosevelt issues ruled politics, Texas was as Democratic as you could get. Republicans became dominant by convincing the electorate that those issues were not as important as what they were selling, and they were incredible salesmen. It is bad news for Republicans that the values of the American voter, Texas voters included, are shifting again. If the priorities of the voters end up where it seems like they are headed, the Democratic Party won't necessarily have to change much in order to control the agenda on every issue of importance.

In fact, Democrats already control the agenda on most issues, due in large part to the electorate's shifting priorities. It just may happen that, in Texas, the voters may start voting for those issues without any huge breakdown of the Republican Party being necessary. They may start voting on those issues due to demographic reality, realigning the parties along the continuum of how people feel about what they care for most. The GOP leadership fight might just speed up the process.

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