Texas Republican Leaders’ Support for Trump in his Final Days Serves Their Self-Interest at the expense of Trust in U.S. Elections

As the presidential election moves through the final stages of the process of counting most of the votes, and into what is surely to be stage of rancorous efforts by Donald Trump and his remaining allies to escalate their challenges to the legitimacy of the results with thus far baseless claims of corruption in the vote counting process, prominent (and not so prominent) Texas Republicans are rallying to his cause. Their support is consistent with a well established pattern among Texas Republicans of hyping non-existent threats to the integrity of elections in order to protect rules that protect their political interest. This pattern predates Donald Trump’s takeover of the national Republican Party, and to the extent that their support of Trump’s last-ditch effort to protect his image among as his followers further erodes Republicans’ faith in elections, they will continue to benefit from encouraging a further decline in trust in the voting system long after Donald Trump’s probable migration from the White House to Florida. As long as Texas Republican voters remain suspicious of the electoral process, they will continue to support Republican elected officials’ resistance to making it easier to vote legally in the state.

Governor Greg Abbott took to Twitter to extol the virtues of Texas’ electoral process while maligning the process elsewhere with intimations that echo Trump’s dark accusations with just enough generality to provide plausible deniability after it’s all over.

Senator Ted Cruz was less shy in a playing-to-the-house appearance on Fox News Wednesday night, when he repeated unsubstantiated claims about the vote counting process in Philadelphia and generally cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. The head and subhead on Paul Cobler’s account in the Dallas Morning News summed it up well: “Ted Cruz backs Trump’s false claim that Philadelphia election observers are being denied access to count. The Texas Republican parroted Trump’s Thursday afternoon claim to host Sean Hannity, and said it was an attempt to ‘steal the election.’”

Also, State Representative Briscoe Cain announced on Twitter that he was headed to Philadelphia “to link up with a team of attorneys from across the country to fight for a fair and honest election in Pennsylvania.” (I couldn't get the Tweet to embed for reasons that are unclear, but look at it. Fashion and the GOP have changed since the 2000 Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida.)

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Extremely serious43%
Somewhat serious26%
Not too serious17%
Not at all serious9%
Don't know4%

Josh Blank and I have already explored how Donald Trump’s characteristically dark and unfounded histrionics about the “rigged” election system finds a Texas audience groomed for accepting these characterizations of the system, in a short op-ed that appeared in papers around the state two weeks ago, and a longer (poorly sub-titled, on me) post. There’s not much use now in replaying all of the data all again. But as we enter what is very likely to be a dangerously contentious fight in which Trump and his allies play upon the predispositions of his partisans in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the electoral process and his probable defeat, three facets of this in Texas are worth keeping in mind. First, however divorced Trump’s claims are,from any evidence-based argument,they will resonate with the well-documented, existing attitudes of Republicans and conservatives in Texas. Second, Republican elected officials and their allies in Texas fostered these attitudes among their voters long before Donald Trump won the White House; and third, setting aside for the moment their inclination to consider the integrity of the political system and the bounds of civility and truth, the recent election results in Texas are likely to incentivize more of this in the future.

The third point deserves more elaboration after the current presidential election is settled and as we turn our attention the legislative session to come. But as questions about the integrity of the national system and Texas’ place in it are likely to keep coming up (per the Governor’s tweet above), some context  provides necessary perspective on upfolding events and Texas Republicans’ public positioning in them.

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Extremely serious13%31%49%
Somewhat serious18%11%30%
Not too serious22%16%11%
Not at all serious43%23%6%
Don't know3%20%4%

Texas Republicans are with deceptive simplicity claiming that their success in holding the line against an increasingly competitive Democratic party in Texas in a high-turnout 2020 election is proof that Republicans are not suppressing the vote. After all, doesn’t this show that they don’t need to do so in order to win? This has a surface plausibility that doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. It’s also plausible to think, as we watch Joe Biden overtake Trump as several states tally hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballot, that had calls to expand access to voting by mail been heeded in Texas (either in response to the pandemic or even before), turnout would have been even higher, and some of the close races in the most contested races in the state might have turned out less favorably for Republicans (given the differential preference of partisans to vote by mail here, as elsewhere). The same counterfactual applies to the lowering of other restrictions in Texas, from implementing online and/or same-day registration to more universal and evenly distributed voter identification requirements.

The Republican campaign effort deserves credit for working within the status quo to hold the line against Democrats after a more competitive political system emerged in 2018. Republican incumbents have guarded the rules that define the allowable electorate zealously in the name of defending against largely non-existent threats to the integrity of the election system, and it is paying off in an increasingly competitive state. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Republican campaigns are adept at working with the rules they have largely written. Nor should we be shocked as many of them join Donald Trump in propagating a lack of trust in the national political system. They’ve been doing it for years to their advantage, and will continue to benefit from the lack of trust among their partisans that Trump is exploiting in a last destructive display of his relentless self-interest. It probably won’t work out for him in the short run. But as the parade of Texas Republicans following Trump’s lead this week illustrates, it worked for Texas Republicans before Trump, and it will work for them after he’s gone as the Texas GOP continues to seek to maintain their advantage — using all the considerable legal means at their disposal. While in some senses this is politics as usual, the coming weeks are likely to illustrate just how corrosive these politics have been to the political system, particularly its ability – our ability — to maintain legitimacy and continuity during the transfer of presidential power.


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