Analysis: Texas Political Influence Nosedives in National Campaign

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune, texastribune.org

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz entered the week with the 2016 political life expectancy of a turtle crossing a six-lane highway: Success is not impossible, but the job requires one very lucky turtle.

Even if Cruz had won Indiana’s primary, he would have only had a very narrow chance to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president. With Donald Trump’s decisive win Tuesday, the billionaire real estate investor might still seem an unlikely nominee, but he’s close enough to victory that any other outcome would be reported as a huge upset.

Cruz, the last Texan standing, dropped out when the results were known. Even the semi-Texans have had a hard time this year. And it’s not only the state’s candidates who were getting knocked around in the race for president; the ideas that have propelled Texas Republicans for the past two decades — ideas like federalism and social conservatism — have taken a hit, too.

Texas is getting clobbered this year.

Rich people from Texas are the exception. They figure prominently no matter who the candidates are or which parties prevail. The state remains a reliable source of political money.

But all of the presidential candidates with Texas ties — Cruz, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, who were all born and reared in the state, and Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina, each linked to Texas by birthplace or occupation — have been eliminated.

Read More2016 Presidential Hopefuls Have Deep Ties to Texas

The state’s influence on the personalities and policies of the race, however, didn’t match the early forecasts. Unless party tricks at the summer’s national political conventions produce some unexpected nominees, the next president won’t be from Texas.

Neither will their guiding philosophies. Federalism — the whole “states over feds” thing that fueled Perry’s 14 years in the governor’s office and that undergirds Greg Abbott’s record as attorney general and now governor — does not appear to be in Trump’s toolkit.

Abbott’s oft-repeated line about his job as attorney general — “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home” — is one version of the state’s disdain for federal authority. His call for a convention of states to write amendments to the U.S. Constitution is another. Perry put his name on a book on the subject: “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.”

That’s not the Trump formula. Those hats of his do not say “Make Washington Small Again.” His is not a federalist campaign, and he frankly doesn’t sound like the kind of presidential candidate who wants to take office just to make 50 governors stronger than they are today.

The social conservatism marbled into Texas politics had a champion in Cruz, but for movement conservatives here and elsewhere, Trump has been, at best, flaky. Several candidates would have been — and in their previous campaigns and political activities, have been — reliable standard-bearers. Perry, Santorum and Huckabee are examples.

Trump, not so much. He didn’t even stop to sniff the red meat when asked whether transgender people ought to be regulated when selecting which restrooms to use. He would send all undocumented immigrants back to their native countries and, famously, make the Mexican government pay for a border wall. He has said “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.” He has nodded to federalism and the social conservatives on same-sex marriage, saying he would rather leave the question to the states.

But those two threads, which dominate in Texas Republican primary and general election campaigns, will be all but nonexistent in this year’s general election race for president.

And it all came to a head the week before the Republican Party of Texas’ state convention in Dallas, a gathering of the devotees of a split political party whose heroes have been vanquished on the national stage.

That foreshadows a general election in which Texas Republicans will choose between two candidates who — based on voters’ preferences in elections over the last 20 years — are something less than a perfect fit. If the current trends hold, they’ll be looking at Hillary Clinton, a Democrat they have been railing against for years, and Trump, who had the support of just 26.75 percent of the state’s GOP primary voters in March.

One of those creatures trying to cross the highway made it to the other side, but the lucky one isn’t a Texan.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.