While there was plenty going in Texas politics this week, it’s all secondary to Donald Trump taking the wheel of the national Republican Party while the kids fight in the back seat. Ted Cruz had a bigger taste of the presidential race than almost anyone expected, and is likely to come back to Texas, on balance, an enhanced political figure in his party. He’ll look even better if the Trump candidacy is a disaster for the GOP, though it would have to be some kind of meltdown for Trump to make Hillary Clinton a real contender in Texas. Not all Republicans will be on board, though the Governor and Lt. Governor ripped the Band Aid off quickly and endorsed Trump. Others Republicans have chosen to pick at those scabs.
1. While the political press is taking no small pleasure in detailing the demise of the Cruz campaign, the Texas Senator is likely to be more than okay in his home state even if he did come up short nationally. Cruz’s numbers in Texas took a small dent over the past 5 months, perhaps a result of the rough and tumble of a national campaign and the exposure that brings, but he likely returns with an enhanced stature after bringing his brand of conservatism to voters – and donors – around the country while managing to come in second place in an extraordinary year for the GOP (that isn’t even half over). Here in Texas, he is still going to find a GOP that, for the most part, is running plays off of the first term Senator’s playbook: think student body right. The Lt. Governor wasn’t crowding into all those camera shots for nothing.
2. So it’s Trump vs. Clinton – proving that, on the whole, the people who write about politics for a living managed to be half right. In honor of the (almost) finalized match-up, here’s a look at the presumptive nominees’ favorability ratings in Texas. (Note to Bern-heads: we know it’s not officially over, and we respect your aspirations and engagement, but we have to move on even if you’re not ready.)
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||9%|
|Don't know/no opinion||2%|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||11%|
|Don't know/no opinion||2%|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||8%||10%||10%|
|Don't know/no opinion||3%||4%||1%|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||15%||18%||4%|
|Don't know/no opinion||2%||4%||1%|
3. Texas Republicans, like their national brethren, are in the process of making their own Texas-specific calculations about whether or not they should throw in with Trump. The day-after stories here at home strenuously speculated on how many Republicans in Cruz’s home state would close ranks in the name of the party unity and, maybe more importantly, to defeat the REAL Lucifer in the Flesh, Hillary Clinton, Lt. Governor Patrick went definitively for Trump now that his hands have healed from crawling across all that broken glass, while Governor Abbott was a bit more demure, declining to mention the presumptive candidate by name in his statement of support for the national GOP ticket. Former Governor Perry, enjoying another microburst of media coverage in Texas over the impending hanging of his official portrait at the Capitol (NEWS!), announced his support for Trump and his very generous willingness to serve if called (please!). By contrast, State Senator Konni Burton won’t be sharing tea with Trump, and wasn’t happy with Rick Perry about his embrace of the man he once called a carnival barker, either.
In a companion piece to Lt. Gov. Patrick’s column in TribTalk declaring that “Donald Trump gets it,” State Rep. Jason Villalba rejected Trump so melodramatically that you’ll be forgiven for thinking he might have auditioned for a role in Captain America: Civil War. (Watch your back, Chris Evans…) No word on whether he tried to brandish a sonogram of Donald Trump’s soul in that TribTalk piece. As the Texas GOP leadership chooses sides, hard not to ponder WWJD: What will Joe do? We predict tepid support in the name of the Republican Party that will make Abbott’s declaration without uttering Trump's name look like a fireworks celebration by comparison. The Speaker was an early endorser of Jeb Bush – whose famous Texas relatives who did get elected president both also signaled they wouldn’t be supporting Trump. So: Abbott, Patrick, Perry in for Trump; Villalba, Burton, & the Bushes out – messy. Sounds like a very good time for the Speaker to focus on other things.
(UPDATE at 11:56 AM: the Speaker was perhaps even more tepid than predicted when Patrick Svitek caught up with him at the Perry portrait unveiling this morning, though we weren't too far off. Two Speakers in a pod...)
4. One likely focus for the Speaker and other legislative leaders is to protect their members in 2016. Over at the James A. Baker instituted blog at the Houston Chronicle, our friend and colleague mark Jones very sensibly sees no major problems for the GOP in Texas with Trump at the top of the ticket, though as he writes with characteristic social scientific care:
it is much more likely than not that Trump’s candidacy will adversely affect down-ballot Republicans in Texas compared to the possible outcomes had Cruz been the nominee, let alone compared to when Governor Greg Abbott, Mitt Romney or Rick Perry were the party’s most visible statewide candidates in 2014, 2012 and 2010, respectively.
Equally sensibly, Jones sees potential problems for GOP legislative incumbents in the places one would expect, “the purple districts (i.e., where neither party enjoys a clear-cut partisan advantage) with large Latino populations:” HD-117 (Rick Galindo), HD-118 (John Lujan), HD-144 (Gilbert Peña), HD-43 (J.M. Lozano). Sarah Davis in HD-134, he suggests, might have to be worried about this should the bottom really fall out, but unlike the others, she doesn't have a particularly strong Democratic opponent. It certainly seems, as of now, that even Donald Trump is unlikely to reverse the significant advantages the GOP enjoys based on patterns of party identification and turnout in Texas. Nonetheless, it bears watching where Trump’s favorability ratings go. The most probable outcome is that, in the face of partisanship and the unfavorable views of Hillary Clinton in Texas, Republican identification continues to carry the day for most GOP candidates up and down the ballot, and Trump’s polarized favorability ratings among Republicans get a bit more positive as the general election campaign unfolds. But we are talking about Donald Trump, who seemed to think that the move with the Trump Tower Taco Bowl was a good idea, so we’ll have to see.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
|category||Leaning conservative||Somewhat conservative||Extremely conservative|
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||11%||12%||7%|
|Don't know/no opinion||1%||1%||3%|
5. As we ponder the run up to the general election campaign and how it forms a context for the 2017 general election, have a look at where leading political figures stand in the eyes of the Texas public. These are all from various University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polls. There’s been some water under the bridge for many of these folks, from presidential candidacies to public stands on everything from rules of bathroom use to immigration policy. It will be interested to see if a very eventful spring has had any impact on public view of the political leadership. Stay tuned.
|Ted Cruz||Feb. 2016||36%||48%||64%||25%||12%||71%|
|Greg Abbott||Nov. 2015||44%||30%||75%||8%||13%||57%|
|Dan Patrick||Jun. 2015||28%||24%||45%||11%||10%||44%|
|Donald Trump||Feb. 2016||29%||59%||47%||41%||12%||77%|
|Republican Party||Feb. 2016||28%||52%||59%||26%||5%||77%|
|Hillary Clinton||Feb. 2016||33%||53%||4%||91%||67%||16%|
|Barack Obama||Jun. 2015||34%||55%||4%||90%||75%||12%|
|Democratic Party||Feb. 2016||33%||48%||3%||87%||73%||10%|