Donald Trump Visits a Lukewarm Texas

Donald Trump visits Austin Tuesday for a fundraising event hosted by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and a public rally in the Luedecke Arena at the Travis County Expo Center.  Trump’s pending visit elicited a range of responses upon its announcement, from Democratic claims that Trump’s unlikely visit to Texas is a sign of weakness to Republican efforts to both laud the visit as an honor even as many GOP leaders dodge an appearance with Trump. Aside from Austin being an unlikely landing place for Trump -- the city isn't that weird, after all -- Trump's visit and the response of political class, especially among Republicans, illustrates just how mixed Trump's reception has been in Texas, where Trump finished behind favorite son Ted Cruz in the March primary.

Amidst the predictable Democratic claims that Trump coming to Austin is a sure sign that that he is running more weakly than he should in Texas, there is some truth to Democratic political operative Matt Angle’s claim in a Dallas Morning News story last week that Trump’s visit to the state capital puts some Republicans in the dicey position of deciding whether or not to dodge an appearance with their presidential candidate.  Lt. Governor Patrick stands as the highest ranking Texas elected official to offer full-throated support for Trump.  It was a little less than ten months ago that Patrick stood shoulder to shoulder with Ted Cruz, endorsing him and basking (well, chuckling, too) as Cruz described as a conservative willing to crawl over broken glass with knife in his teeth for conservatism. While Cruz appeared to be the receiver that day, it was also a very good move for Patrick, who subsequently traveled extensively with Patrick, acting as surrogate and crowding into multiple national cable channel camera shots as Cruz tried and failed to defeat Trump in the primaries..  

Subsequently, Patrick’s calculations have led him to embrace Trump in the name of defeating Hillary Clinton at any cost, party loyalty writ large, and, closer to home, urging Trump skeptics in the GOP to make sure they show up for nervous GOP state legislators in close districts when it comes time to vote.  While there are different approaches to defending the edges of the sizable Republican majority in the state legislature -- Governor Greg Abbott and (especially) Speaker of the House Joe Straus are taking decidedly more arms-length approaches to Trump -- there are definitely signs of skepticism among Texas Republicans that might warrant some effort.  This isn’t to say that Texas is about to turn you-know-what-color in 2016 -- the combination of patterns of party identification and Republican antipathy to Hillary Clinton can be counted on the carry the day for Trump in the absence of a serious Trump meltdown.  

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Very favorable4%18%26%
Somewhat favorable3%12%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable5%16%13%
Somewhat unfavorable5%10%14%
Very unfavorable80%41%18%
Don't know/no opinion2%4%1%

But conservatives and Republicans in Texas clearly have reservations about Trump that are evident in multiple results in the June 2016 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll, in which Trump’s favorable/unfavorable ratings among Republicans was 53/32. Josh Blank and I wrote last week about signs of Tea Party skepticism; for those considering Trump’s visit to Austin, below are several results that further illustrate that while a majority of Republicans (and thus Texans) can be expected to support Trump, undercurrents of wariness flow through that support, too.  

(For a round-up of many poll results related to Trump, see this search result page at the Texas Politics Project website.)

Many Texas conservatives view Trump as moderate. Overall, 26 percent of self-identified conservatives view Trump as in the middle of the ideological spectrum; 16 percent view him as left of center.  Among those who view themselves as extremely conservative, only 14 percent view Trump the same way. Twenty-five percent of extreme conservatives place Trump in the middle. 

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1 - Extremely liberal7%6%3%
4 - In the middle12%20%26%
7 - Extremely conservative28%20%12%
Don't know17%29%7%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
1 - Extremely liberal3%3%5%
4 - In the middle31%23%25%
7 - Extremely conservative9%12%14%
Don't know9%7%6%

Expectations of a Trump presidency are not high among conservatives, either.  Conservatives were more likely to think Trump would be a good or average president than a great one.  Extreme conservatives were more likely to think he would be a great president though, despite skepticism about his conservatism.

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Great president2%10%18%
Good president4%11%29%
Average president5%12%21%
Poor president13%10%12%
Terrible president77%56%20%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Great president5%21%26%
Good president24%34%28%
Average president23%17%25%
Poor president13%14%8%
Terrible president36%14%14%

While this puts Trump in fair stead with the conservative wing of the party, assessments were much stronger for Ted Cruz going in the Feb 2016 UT/Texas Tribune Poll on the eve of the Texas primary - when 51 percent of extreme conservatives (and 27 percent of all conservatives) said Cruz would make a great president.

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Great president2%1%28%
Good president4%10%31%
Average president9%19%19%
Poor president10%18%10%
Terrible president73%38%10%
Don't know2%13%3%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Great president8%25%51%
Good president28%34%27%
Average president22%23%10%
Poor president19%9%2%
Terrible president19%5%8%
Don't know4%3%3%

The drive to avoid a Clinton presidency will buttress Trump in Texas (as elsewhere), but Republicans' reasons for their vote underline the tepidness of Texas Republicans’ enthusiasm for him.  The staunchest Republicans were more likely to chose blocking Hillary than electing Trump as the reason for their preference for Trump in the June 2016 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll. The pattern was similar among conservatives, though again strong conservatives were more embracing of  Trump than their less extreme fellow travelers. The weakest conservatives were much more likely to choose defeating Hillary over supporting Trump.

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I want Donald Trump to be elected president67%48%43%
I don't want Hillary Clinton to be elected president33%52%57%

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I want Donald Trump to be elected president45%58%41%
I don't want Hillary Clinton to be elected president55%42%59%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
I want Donald Trump to be elected president28%43%45%
I don't want Hillary Clinton to be elected president72%57%55%

The urbanite New York real estate and reality TV star Trump -- with his embrace of LGBT rights, his mixed record on abortion, and his at times seemingly libertine personal life  -- has succeeded in attracting some conservatives to his orbit by sounding the campaign’s themes of nativism and national restoration of 20th century American culture.  Yet the specter of the more base elements of Trump's persona still haunt his candidacy.  In virtually all categories, Trump’s support is rooted more in conservative revulsion at a Hillary Clinton presidency than in support for Trump himself.  Conservatives and Republicans view a Hillary Clinton presidency as the world turned upside down -- though Donald Trump in the White House remains a stranger thing than most of them envisioned for the 2016 election.