Analysis: Texas Pols Still Finding Voices to Back Trump

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune, texastribune.org

Before Texas Republicans can become evangelists for their presidential nominee, they’re going to have to reconcile themselves to Donald Trump.

The case they’re making is a negative one, for the most part — less an argument in favor of the Republican than a steady patter of loathing for the apparent Democratic favorite, Hillary Clinton.

And in the meantime, Trump is leaving tracks all over the reputations of the party and of some of its most prominent leaders in Texas.

This is best exemplified in two words: Ted Cruz. The U.S. senator and former presidential candidate was the second-to-last Republican in the presidential race and hasn’t been able to bring himself to endorse the winner. He’s no Clinton fan by any measure, but he can’t bring himself to jump into the Trump pool.

He’s in an extreme position, as this goes, but he is not alone.

Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, one of Cruz’s co-chairs in the state, has been saying he will vote for the Republican nominee without expressing a lot of confidence in said nominee. He did it again on Friday, in an on-stage conversation with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith.

“Let me say it this way. You’ve got two choices. One of two people is going to be the next president,” Sitton said.

The commissioner believes Clinton will take the government down the wrong fiscal road. “My hope is Donald Trump will go down a different road. We just don’t know a lot about Donald Trump today, right? He just came out of nowhere, never been in politics. He has espoused a lot of positions, but they were in a fairly inflammatory way and so, we want to know what is the intellect behind that.”

He added that his is more a vote in favor of Trump than a vote against Clinton. “My hope is that Donald Trump is going to be the guy that we need him to be.”

Let’s call Sitton a convert who’s still ironing the wrinkles out of his sales pitch.

Aren’t they all?

Greg Abbott, now the governor, found himself mired in Trumplandia this week, answering questions about his investigation, as attorney general, into Trump University and his office’s official view that it was scamming Texans who hoped to get rich in the real estate business.

The story has a couple of entry and exit points. Abbott’s aides say the then-AG forced Trump U out of the state and considered that the end of it. A former assistant AG had a different take, contending the office dropped the case for political reasons. Another former assistant AG, David Morales, later said he — not Abbott — pulled the plug on the Trump U litigation. Either way, more than three years after Trump U stopped operating in Texas, Trump made two rare Texas contributions to Abbott, totaling $35,000.

The answer to one immediate question that might be on your lips is, “Why, yes, that is a lot of money.” The answer to the natural follow-up is, “Yes, that is a relatively small political donation when compared to many others collected by Abbott, a prodigious fundraiser.”

It might seem huge to Trump, but to Abbott, not so much.

The governor, by the way, is supporting Trump in his way: In his speech at the state GOP convention last month, Abbott put his vote in Trump’s pocket without actually saying Trump’s name out loud. Nobody on the candidate’s side has a video clip they can use as evidence, but they can’t say Abbott held out on them, either.

Give the governor a point for political skill.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is trying to attach a rocket engine to his pet issue, potty training the state’s public schools on how to handle the most urgent human needs — going to the bathroom — of their transgender students.

Trump isn’t helping him much, either, initially saying he didn’t really have a position on the bathroom rights of transgender people, later saying he thinks the matter should be left to the states.

That said, Patrick is alone among top Texas politicos in full-heartedly supporting Donald Trump — even saying the man’s name in front of large audiences. He’s all in, which gives him a reasonable chance to be the Trump campaign’s go-to in the state.

Rick Perry, the former presidential candidate and Texas governor, deserves a qualified nod here. He’s for Trump, and says so, and doesn’t like Clinton, and says so. But it’s in the same paragraph with his possible motive: Perry says he’d be willing to serve as Trump’s veep. That makes him unique, but also dilutes the endorsement.

Many others in the GOP seem stuck on the road between their original choices for the Republican presidential nomination and Trump, the apparent winner.  Some will convert. Some will get out and proselytize for the nominee.

But not yet. That first sale is the hardest one to close.

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