Postponing the Purpling

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last summer I wrote of the possibility that Texas might soon become a purple battleground state.  But Republican successes in Texas indicate the day of reckoning may be further in the future than originally thought.

The Texas Republican Party did well in the recent elections.  Trump carried the state and won its 38 electoral votes.  Cornyn won his re-election bid.  The GOP, which has won every statewide race since 1996, extended its record by retaining a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission and seven seats on Texas’s Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals.  The GOP retained its majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.  With the collaboration of Governor Abbott the legislature should be able to draw new election district boundaries to make it easier for the GOP to keep the legislature and expand its majority on Texas’s delegation to the U. S. House of Representatives.

None of this was necessarily a foregone conclusion.  As I wrote in my 6/15 column, there were many signs that the Republican grip on Texas was beginning to weaken and that our state might soon begin to turn purple.  The victory margins for President Trump in 2016, and Ted Cruz and other Republicans winning statewide elections in 2018 were much narrower than usual.  The Democrats flipped 12 state House  seats as well as 2 congressional seats.  Public opinion polls showed declining popularity for both Trump and Senator John Cornyn in 2020 with their opponents, Joe Biden and M. J. Hegar, being within striking distance of winning Texas’s electoral votes and a U. S. Senate seat.

So how was the GOP able to halt, at least for the time being, the purpling of Texas?  Perhaps the two most important reasons are that the state GOP launched successful drives to recruit both candidates and new voters, and that President Trump showed unexpected strength among Latino voters, especially along the border.

An excellent article in The National Review reports that the Texas GOP recruited and trained an unusually large number of candidates for state and local office—3,118, compared to the Demcorats’1,873—and launched an unusually intense and well-organized drive to find and register new potential voters, thereby adding about 186,000 more names to the election rolls.  

Perhaps more importantly for the long run future of the Republicans and Democrats is President Trump’s unexpected relative success among Texas Latinos.  To be sure, Joe Biden won about 60% of the Latino vote, but Trump still won about 40%–slightly better than the 39% he won in 2016.  Four years of nonstop criticism of his prospective border wall and other immigration policies, as well as accusations of racism, evidently did him little harm.  The San Antonio Express reported that many Latinos approved Trump’s policies on law and order and saw him as more supportive than Biden of the oil and gas industry, which supplies many Latinos with jobs.  As Catholics they preferred Trump’s pro-life polices to Biden’s pro-choice stance.  And they resented the influx of undocumented newcomers from south of the border, believing it unfair that they be able to win benefits without playing by the same rules as Latino citizens and legal immigrants.

The fact that the GOP is apparently holding its own with Latinos is exceptionally important because the future of Texas politics will be shaped by Latino voters.  As also noted in my 6/15 column, Latino’s are both the largest and the most rapidly growing ethnic group in Texas.  Since 1990 they’ve grown from 24% to 42% of Texas’s population, while Anglos, the backbone of the Texas GOP, have shrunk from 64% to 41%.  To remain dominant in Texas the GOP must retain its Anglo support while both retaining and expanding its Latino support too.  The election returns this year indicate it may be able to do so.

Of course, two can play the GOP’s game.  There’s no good reason why the Democrats can’t better develop their own candidate recruitment and voter registration drives.  Indeed, they must, if they want to increase their chances of making Texas purple.  And they still retain the loyalties of the majority of Latinos.  But Texas Democrats may need to rethink their attitudes towards abortion, the oil and gas industry, criminal justice, and immigration lest more Latinos become Republican.  

So the purpling of Texas may yet come.  But the GOP seems to have at least bought itself some time.

Sources:  The Texas GOP’s candidate recruitment and voter registration programs are discussed at https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/11/how-texas-republicans-kept-their-state-red/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=mclaughlin&utm_content=texas&fbclid=IwAR1jI3PkZY9-zNOCY0HGwr3awMbmKnCiMWnHuP51NSxOLpDlRxp6rRGNnRM.

The unexpected popularity of President Trump with Latinos is discussed at https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/the-trump-effect-showed-up-in-heavily-hispanic-texas-border-counties/ar-BB1aZU99 and https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/11/05/why-more-hispanics-voted-for-trump-in-2020/.  


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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