In an increasingly familiar dynamic in the election for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke is gaining glowing reviews from a national audience on social media and in the press for his explanation of his view that NFL players taking a knee are not disrespectful to the flag or to veterans and service members. But as in other episodes in O’Rourke’s campaign, the reception in Texas is likely to be much more ambiguous, given what we know about public attitudes in the state toward the NFL protests.
The week started with a public memorial service for the police officers killed and injured in Dallas, which included President Obama visiting the state and former President and Texas Governor George W. Bush making a rare public speaking appearance. The news media channeled troubled thoughts about the deep structural politics of last week’s events as the usual partisan politics were largely muted early in the week. There were, of course, exceptions, including a prominent one who holds statewide office here.
The Democratic Presidential Nominating contest is over; Donald Trump is less offensive to people when he reads what he's going to say; Rick Perry won't be Trump's running mate but he still wants to be in his administration; and Ken Paxton tries his best to do Gov. Abbott a solid over Trump University, but only makes him look more suspicious by association.
The post-New Hampshire exits of Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie are unlikely to cause major movements in Texas, but the struggles of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to expand their appeals to young people and racial and ethnic minorities, respectively, will be major factors in the Texas Democratic Primary. Down ballot in Texas, this week saw the factional conflicts in the Texas GOP continue to approach the boiling point as candidates released videos and oppo hits as March 1 approaches. Attorney General Ken Paxton, of course, isn’t worried at all about the indictments piling up against him, but nonetheless is probably glad that he’s not on the ballot right this minute. Amidst all the complex cross currents in Texas right now, The New York Times op-ed page is pretty clearly not very concerned about the details. Proceed for relevant Texas data and a few thoughts on the week in politics.
The holidays were definitely over this week with the primary contests heating up and President Obama making a big push on gun safety and earning a swift, even preemptive responses from Republicans in Washington and Texas. Speaking of Washington Republicans in Texas, Marco Rubio made his first campaign visit to Texas this week in an effort to break into the top tier here. The DPS officer who pulled over and arrested Sandra Bland, who later died in custody in Waller County, is out of the job and in legal trouble, while federal law enforcement officials are taking a MUCH more measured approach to the constitutionalist occupation of a building on national park land in Colorado – perhaps following a little-noticed Texas precedent. As we were gathering material for this post, Greg Abbott called for a Constitutional Convention – U.S., not state, so if you’re a Texas legislator, it’s ok – and 9 new amendments broadly aimed at reasserting state authority vis-a-vis the federal government and putting new checks on the U.S. Supreme Court. He seems sort of fed up! To borrow a phrase.
Lt. Governor Patrick's interim charges represent a potpourri of issues ranging from the unsung operational stuff of government to the more provocative issues that rouse the GOP's voting base. University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polling suggests that the GOP primary electorate is much less interested in the details of issues like water and electricity than they are in issues like immigration, border security, and the vociferous protection and expansion of gun rights.
Last week's incident in McKinney, TX involving a local police officer and a group of black teens has fed the ongoing national conversation about policing and race – a difficult topic made all the more challenging by the multiple dimensions involved in this instance, which include race, class, and views of law enforcement, to name just a few of the big ones.
In the short run, the GOP appears to be embarking on a winning strategy to mobilize a reliable and larger electorate using the rhetoric that motivates its voters.