Dan Patrick's Endorsement of Ted Cruz Is a Timely Win - Especially for Patrick

Dan Patrick’s endorsement of Ted Cruz had all the trappings of business as usual, in which a statewide official pledges fealty to a national candidate who is both an ideological fellow traveller and a big cog in the same political party machinery. Not surprisingly, the event and the media coverage of it provided sound bites of earnestness mated with deep camp: Cruz portrayed Patrick as a conservative warrior willing to crawl “through broken glass with a knife between his teeth”; Patrick described endorsing Cruz as “probably the biggest honor in my life.”  I think I have a casting idea for the central buddies of True Detective season 3.

While Cruz and Patrick may not quite reach the dark melodrama of the HBO detective series, polling data helps highlight the deeper undercurrents to an act that a drive-by analysis might dismiss as just another instance of mundane political theater. Many reporters on the political beat were quick to raise their cranky exchange on Patrick’s radio show during the 2012 primary, when Cruz’s challenge of then Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst put then-State Senator Patrick in the uncomfortable position of defending the Senate’s presiding officer. Patrick’s pragmatism in the 2012 campaign, of course, didn’t prevent him from crawling across broken glass etc. two years later en route to savaging Dewhurst in the following election.  

Patrick’s occasionally visible willingness to play the inside game got him into trouble early on in the legislative session when he was too frank in his assessment of the prospects of open carry (trouble he quickly moved to address when the mistake became apparent, and open carry eventually passed). At session's end, some of his frequent allies and supporters among of the Texas Tea Party leadership publicly questioned the results of his leadership. In this context, Patrick's endorsement of Cruz is more valuable to Patrick than it is to Cruz.

Cruz’s national prominence as a U.S. Senator and critic of the process in Washington D.C. has made him extremely popular among conservatives in the Republican Party of Texas. While the national media has made much of the negativity that Cruz has garnered among his Senate colleagues and in national polls, his favorability ratings among Texas Republicans suggest that his infamy in Washington feeds his popularity among his core supporters at home. He is particularly popular among Tea Party identifiers and those who self-identify as extremely conservative – the very corner of the party that has been crabbing about Patrick’s failure to deliver sufficiently conservative results in the 2015 session.  

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable16%35%64%
Somewhat favorable30%33%18%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable25%15%7%
Somewhat unfavorable14%7%3%
Very unfavorable13%5%4%
Don't know/No opinion3%5%5%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable4%27%58%
Somewhat favorable7%31%24%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%19%7%
Somewhat unfavorable6%13%7%
Very unfavorable67%6%1%
Don't know/No opinion5%5%3%

Cruz has slipped among Texas Republicans during the Trump interlude, but prior to Trump’s rise he led in the trial ballots in every University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of the 2016 nominating race, with little sign that his support is a passing fad among Texas Republicans.

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Ted Cruz20%
Rick Perry12%
Scott Walker10%
Marco Rubio8%
Jeb Bush7%
Rand Paul6%
Ben Carson6%
Mike Huckabee5%
Carly Fiorina3%
Rick Santorum2%
Donald Trump2%
Chris Christie1%
John Kasich1%
Lindsey Graham1%
Bobby Jindal1%
George Pataki0%
Don't know15%

Dan Patrick also fares well in favorability ratings among Texas conservatives, but he has little to give Cruz that Cruz does not already have. One might speculate on the effect of a Patrick endorsement of another like-branded conservative – Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee come to mind. Cruz’s presence in the race, however, makes both scenarios (let alone a primary endorsement of an establishment figure like Jeb! Bush or Marco Rubio) very unlikely – in large part, because Cruz’s gravity in the state far surpasses Patrick’s.  

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable4%14%35%
Somewhat favorable26%36%22%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable39%24%25%
Somewhat unfavorable16%9%4%
Very unfavorable3%3%4%
Don't know/No opinion12%13%10%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable3%15%21%
Somewhat favorable8%23%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable24%34%32%
Somewhat unfavorable13%8%7%
Very unfavorable36%5%3%
Don't know/No opinion17%16%11%

Cruz undoubtedly reaps some benefits from Patrick’s endorsement – he is, after all, the incumbent Lt. Governor, with all the fundraising and network benefits that go along with the position, as well as an unabashed and very public conservative, his squabbles with the frequently unappeasable extremists in his party notwithstanding. Nonetheless, Patrick has no practical alternative to endorsing Cruz, and in fact benefits greatly from the association with a figure whose reputation with conservatives is built on wholly avoiding the corruption associated with politics – and who has none of the inevitable exposure that comes with presiding over a chamber of the Texas legislature. For all the predictability of the endorsement theatrics, it’s main significance is that it benefits the endorser more than the endorsee.

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable15%44%62%
Somewhat favorable44%36%25%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable23%8%7%
Somewhat unfavorable12%5%2%
Very unfavorable4%2%3%
Don't know/No opinion1%5%2%

So while Patrick gets the larger return on the positive-sum game of endorsing Cruz, the renegade Texas Senator’s most valuable state-level endorser remains in the wings. While both Cruz and Patrick remain popular standard bearers among conservatives, Governor Greg Abbott remains both the most well known, the most well liked, and the most prolific fundraiser of the state level elected officials. Cruz and Abbott's favorability ratings among conservatives and Tea Party identifiers are almost indistinguishable, with Abbott  more favorably viewed by a broader base of Republicans overall. The day Abbott endorses Cruz will be yet another day of political theater, but one in which Cruz will much more clearly play the beneficiary.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable4%34%53%
Somewhat favorable11%40%25%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable13%15%11%
Somewhat unfavorable17%5%4%
Very unfavorable49%3%4%
Don't know/No opinion5%4%4%