After watching Donald Trump grope the White House, Republicans in Texas are using their political might to secure victories in next year’s midterm contests, while preparing for another decade in power.
In many ways, Trump’s defeat has been a blessing for Republicans. They are now rallying their base in calling President Joe Biden ineffective on several core Conservative issues, including border security. Some of the GOP’s biggest legislative gains in Congress and state legislatures occurred when Democrats controlled the presidency.
The modern conservative movement, for example, was brought forward when Bill Clinton was in the White House. And the Barack Obama era led to the Tea Party movement and large-scale losses for Democrats in state houses across the country. Now there’s Biden, whose poll numbers are dwindling as he becomes a handy whip post for Republicans in Texas and across the country.
Republican pride is also evident in politics and law-making.
Recognizing that Trump is still the clear leader of the GOP, Gov. Greg Abbott and Republicans in the Texas Legislature have appeased supporters of the former president by passing laws and crafting policies that give credence to many grievances. from Trump, including unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Even more devastating, Republicans are redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional boundaries, a task that will consolidate the GOP majorities in Austin and their delegation in Washington for years, if not another decade.
âThey are engaged in extreme partisan gerrymandering, with a very explicit goal of locking out majorities in the Texas Legislature until 2031 and locking out a large majority of the United States House delegation from Texas until in 2031, “said political scientist Mark Jones of Rice University.
The past four years have been one of the most significant periods in Texas political history.
In 2018, Democrats closed the gap at Texas House and won two seats in Congress. With the exception of Abbott, the state-wide top contests were too close for comfort. Most notably, former US Representative Beto O’Rourke D-El Paso moved closer to 2.6 percentage points from Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Next year, O’Rourke is expected to challenge Abbott for the governorship.
Republicans learned from their 2018 struggles. Two years later, they maintained control of the legislature, incumbent Republican President John Cornyn was easily re-elected and Trump defeated Biden in what Democrats and pundits have described as an emerging battlefield. In fact, the 2020 election cemented Republican dominance in the Lone Star State.
By winning in 2020, Republicans were able to dictate the agenda for this year’s legislative sessions, as well as firmly control the redistribution process.
GOP lawmakers and Abbott insist they’ve fortified the state’s power grid enough, which nearly collapsed in a winter storm in February that left millions without power and resulted in death and property damage.
But the regular and special sessions were marked by the adoption of a conservative wishlist, with many elements pushed by Trump and his supporters. The legislation includes a controversial election bill that supporters say makes cheating more difficult, but critics argue it is designed to stifle the vote in communities of color.
The legislature also approved a law that aims to tackle social media censorship. It arose out of the fact that Trump was kicked out of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Texas officials are also auditing the 2020 election, at Trump’s request. And Abbott signed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country. The law prohibits abortions after six weeks and creates a bonus system with cash rewards for people who sue those who help patients obtain illegal abortions.
The red meat legislation approved by lawmakers targets conservative Texas voters who dominated the GOP primary process. Because Democrats have not won a statewide election since 1994, Republicans believe they are not at risk in a general election.
Part of that calculation involves Biden.
Republicans hammer home the new president on a range of issues. Last week, Abbott and several governors met at the state’s border with Mexico for a âBiden bashâ session. Illegal border crossings have exploded, and at times Biden seems to lack control over the situation and his politics.
Expect Republicans to continue to use the national climate against Democrats, much like they did in 2020, when they portrayed their rivals as far-left liberals who wanted to fund the police.
âThey’ve dusted off Rick Perry’s old Obama-era playbook, where you campaign against Democrats in the White House as much as you campaign against the Democratic candidates you face in 2022,â Jones said. “What hurts Democrats in Texas is guilt by association with progressives at the national level.”
To avoid catastrophic losses, Biden must gain momentum and Texas Democrats must put Republicans on the defensive by hammering out issues beyond those pushed by extremists on both sides.
Polls show most Texans think the state is headed in the wrong direction. Democrats need to figure out how to use that sentiment as a campaign theme.
Trump is the wild card. He benefits Republicans by leading Tories through voting booths, and he’s a major asset in the GOP primaries. But Trump can be a handicap in a general election. In 2018, he was the cornerstone of US Representative Pete Sessions. Armed with Trump’s approval, Sessions lost their seat in the Dallas County Congress to Democrat Colin Allred.
Despite a legislative session heavily focused on his criticism of the 2020 election, Trump continues to interfere in Texas politics. He has supported statewide candidates like Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. On Saturday, he threatened House Speaker Dade Phelan with political retaliation if the House did not approve his preferred forensic audit.
Unlike 2018, Republicans in general are more organized and ready to meet the challenges of a general election. In 2020, the generic Republican on the ballot outclassed Trump, which might begin to explain why Biden won Tarrant County, but all of the GOP candidates the Democrats targeted survived their challenges.
Meanwhile, Republicans are making it harder for Democrats to win the election by drawing legislative lines that protect their majorities and do not embrace the growth of the minority population over the past 10 years.
The cards will be challenged in court, but they are not expected to change much.
âOther than jumping into the DeLorean and coming back in November 2020 and winning the Texas House, there’s not much you can do,â Jones said.
Texas Republicans are in the driver’s seat. Let’s see where this takes us.