The Republican National Convention in Cleveland delivered on the promise of conflict and drama, even if it fell short on the promised A-list celebrities and athletes. The Trump coronation tapped into many currents of public opinion evident in Texas, including pessimism about the state of the country, shifting views of the United States’ role in the world, and the balance of threat and opportunity for us out there. Ted Cruz used the convention to step into the spotlight one last time in the 2016 campaign, which was really good for him if you’re a member of the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” school of thought. Closer to home but with national implications, Texas’ ever-controversial voter identification law was sent back to district court for yet more review, including assessment of its application in the November elections, generating by-now predictable partisan responses.
1. Google “Donald Trump” and “dark picture of America.” This was the go-to description of the Republican nominee’s acceptance speech. Trump again defied conventional wisdom and political strategy by sticking to the message that carried him to a number of primary victories and eventually the nomination, with the added assumption of the mantle of the Nixonian “law and order” candidate in this election. Trump set the talking heads to ponder whether his approach will resonate with voters beyond the GOP primary electorate. While the “smart response” to last night is to say that one’s vote this November is likely to reflect whether or not one agrees with this vision of America, things are likely both simpler (e.g. party identification drives most of the vote) and more complicated (e.g. these are two widely disliked candidates) than that. Trump’s view of America in decline is not his alone; in University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polling, we’ve consistently seen Republican voters expressing dissatisfaction with the country’s direction. Whether this set of attitudes is in response to a sober-eyed assessment of the country, or in response to a Democratic president is a question we only may get to answer. In the meantime, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick reportedly characterized the acceptance speech as "probably the best speech I've ever heard."
|Poll||Right Direction||Wrong Track|
|Poll||Better||Same Compared to a Year Ago||Worse|
2. “Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo.” On the same day that Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, proclaimed "We cannot have four more years of ... abandoning our friends. ... Donald Trump will ... stand with our allies," Trump told the New York Times that he may only come to the defense of NATO allies “if they fulfill their obligations to us.” Trump continued his attempts at moving the GOP towards a more insular approach in his nomination speech, sending nationalist signals on foreign policy and foreign trade. While years of foreign wars, on one hand, and a slow to non-existent recovery in American manufacturing, on the other, have lead towards a broad reluctance to continue embracing the rest of the world (along with the impact of terrorism), there still appears to be some ambivalence (among Texas voters) about the U.S.’s international commitments. In the June 2016 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll, 46 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “This country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world.” Forty-nine percent of Texas Republicans disagreed. These results were essentially unchanged from October 2014, when 44 percent of Republicans agreed with the isolationist position with 52 percent disagreeing. When asked whether trade deals have been good, bad, or have had no impact on the U.S. economy, a slim majority of Texas Republicans, 51 percent, said that they have been bad. So far, the GOP establishment appears most concerned about Trump’s turn on foreign policy and foreign trade, the public, at least at this point, appears to be mostly confused. At least it’s not just Texas. A recent national poll sponsored by GSD&M and Vianovo found 30 percent of Americans thinking that the U.S. should continue to be a partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement, 32 percent said the US should withdraw, and 37 said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion. In his convention speech, Trump promised “renegotiating NAFTA to get a much better deal for America – and we’ll walk away if we don’t get that kind of a deal.” (Disclosure: we consulted on the GSD&M/Vianovo Polll.)
|Good for the United States economy||34%||19%||17%|
|Bad for the United States economy||33%||45%||51%|
|Have not had much impact||12%||10%||7%|
|Don't know/No opinion||21%||26%||24%|
3. Appreciating the enthusiasm of the New York delegation...though are puppy dogs really servile? Somewhere ahead of Melania Trump’s, er, homage to Michelle Obama in her speech to the RNC and behind her husband’s Blade Runner-esque portrait of America c. 2016, Texas’ own Ted Cruz generated one of the major storylines of the convention with his non-endorsement speech. A big part of the coverage was the pushback from Trump and the response of at least part of the crowd, not to mention some vocal dissent from within a divided Texas delegation. Cruz’s approach to the convention triggered continuing speculation about whether his play – universally seen as positioning himself for 2020 – would pay off or backfire. As with everything linked to Donald Trump in the 2016 election – which means the whole thing – there are too many contingencies in play to know this soon. On one hand, Cruz’s clearly self-interested play, however larded with principle, reinforces the widespread negative impressions of him as self-centered, especially among Republican elites (who have worked mightily in some cases to publicly disseminate this view of him). On the other hand, two years from now, it could look like a move that was smart and even conscientious in the eyes of some if the Trump campaign turns disastrous for the GOP. In the present, Cruz remains popular in Texas, but as we observed Wednesday in the run-up to his convention appearance, Cruz went in very popular among the Texas GOP faithful, if a bit banged up from the presidential campaign. (h/t Mark Wiggins on the nature of puppies, the Texas Tribune on video from Cruz's morning-after chat with the Texas delegation breakfast the morning after his big speech.)
4. Appeals court sends Texas voter identification law back to district judge. The 5th Circuit’s ruling doesn’t throw the law away outright, however, as the District Judge in Corpus Christi will now have to fashion an interim fix for the November Elections before a permanent fix can be crafted. We’ve asked a fair amount about Texas’ voter identification laws over the years, but most recently in October 2014. In that poll, 66 percent of Texas voters held a favorable view of the state’s voter ID law, including 94 percent of Republicans. When asked about the law’s effect on turnout, only 8 percent of Texans said that the law would increase turnout, 38 percent said that it would decrease turnout, and 43 percent said that it would have no effect. A majority of Democrats (64 percent) said that it would decrease turnout, while a majority of Republicans (62 percent) said that it would have no effect. Given these results, and the likelihood that they remain either unchanged, or slightly more polarized, there’s little reason to expect Republican officials to walk away from this law quietly as a result of a court ruling. For their part, Democratic leaders have successfully framed the issue as a partisan one as well, especially among African American Democrats wary of efforts readily understood to make it more difficult or costly to vote.
5. Go see a movie this weekend before the next convention starts. Next week is the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, which is unlikely to have nearly as much drama as the GOP’s. We’ll post a lot more Hillary Clinton numbers next week, but here’s why you probably won’t hear nearly as much about Texas next week (or see as many cutaway shots to people in cowboy hats and Texas flag shirts in the convention hall – do Texas delegates own more than one Texas flag shirt?) as you did this week. The Clinton campaign may announce their VP candidate this Friday to help the media transition out of the GOP’s week, which will probably work about as well as weaning someone off of heroin with lots of ibuprofen. And no, it’s not going to be Julian Castro, for those of you living in a Texas-centric fantasy world.
CODA for those under 40. Ok, under 50.