Texas Republicans Enter The First Stage Of Grief: Denial

If you even remotely follow Texas politics, by now you have heard of Battleground Texas (@BGTX)–the latest incarnation of “we’ve finally figured out how to turn Texas blue, Inc.”.  If so, you have almost certainly heard the protestations by Texas Republicans great and small about this quixotic endeavor and how unlikely and unrealistic BGTX’s goal is.  This is what the Kubler-Ross Model refers to as the “First Stage of Grief”: Denial.
Governor Rick Perry went on record calling it “…the biggest pipe dream I have ever heard“, but the most salient and detailed…albeit riddled with false assumptions and a blind eye towards history…was proffered by Austin-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) in a counterpoint op-ed to the San Antonio Express-News entitled “Dream on, Texas red for a long time“.
I happen to respect Matt and believe him to be a bright guy, but found his piece to be riddled with broad, disputable assumptions, along with a healthy dose of wishful thinking. Thus, my counter-counterpoint.
We will set aside for a blog post later this week some of the myriad bold assertions and assumptions he makes concerning the origins of BGTX (unemployed operatives building a vehicle for San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (@JulianCastroTX), the “political future” of Texas (growing suburban counties), the Democrats’ lack of a bench (no “first-tier candidate for statewide office”), and the security of the House and Senate for Texas Republicans, and the measure of success for former Houston Mayor Bill White’s campaign.  For now, let us simply debunk the false premise that BGTX cannot be effective in making Texas competitive in two, four, or six years.
Matt asserts that BGTX “will do little to change Texas politically in the near term”. I suppose that, to some degree, it depends on what one considers “near term” as well as if the BGTX goal is actually to “change Texas politically” in the 2014-2016 timeframe Matt levels as his measure of “near term”.  
For those of us who were here for the decimation of the TDP and the subsequent false starts, GOTV schemes, wishing upon a demographic star, and bad decisions that followed for nearly twenty years, I think the overwhelming majority are satisfied that the goal of BGTX is to change the culture of our party and begin the years-long process to get back to Blue.  From the conversations I have had with Democratic operatives and party officials around the state, a 2014-2016 timeframe for success is one that has been imposed upon us, rather than promulgated from within.
Having said that, I certainly expect BGTX to be effective immediately (as in 2014).   No, “effective” in my book does not necessarily mean winning statewide races or flipping a chamber.  To me effective means engaging grassroots Democrats across the state, empowering them with new strategies and a new philosophy, and promising a professional, multi-cycle, multi-million dollar organizing effort, that helps Texas Democrats build a solid foundation.  I fully expect this effectiveness will manifest in 2014 in more than two dozen counties, including all of those Matt references (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, South Texas, Denton, Collin, Fort Bend, Hays, and Williamson).
My interpretation of Matt’s well written piece is that he believes Texas Democrats and BGTX need a nuclear weapon-grade effort to swing the political pendulum back to Blue.  Fairly recent Texas history proves that a well-organized, multi-cycle effort can swing the pendulum enough so that the coup de grace may be delivered not with a sword, but with a pencil.
One may merely look to the Associated Republican of Texas. Remember those guys?
While their website contends that their efforts were set in motion in 1974, campaign finance disclosure forms indicate that they raised no money at all until 1994 (the year former Governor and President George W. Bush first ran).  As a young man first entering Texas politics in that year, I recall the sordid tale as told through the Democratic operative network: a shadowy group of moneyed and motivated Republicans decided that to turn Texas from Blue to Red they needed to run everywhere, raise and spend money outside of the RPT, and build a crescendo to the elections in 2000 where they could take over the House, Senate, and gain control of the Legislative Redistricting Board so that they could control the decennial redistricting and decimate the Democrats statewide with a pencil, not a sword.
They faithfully executed their plan, almost to the letter.  Former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney’s PAC, “Texas Partnership”, threw a bit of a wrench in that plan, but only for one cycle until former Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay could pump enough money and political muscle in the process to take the House and shove through a mid-decade Congressional redistricting plan that all but killed off the already endangered Texas Blue Dog…with a few strokes of a pencil on the map of Texas.
I know that in 1994 no reasonable member of the Democratic establishment thought Texas would turn so solidly Red–certainly not in a four-cycle timeframe.  I would venture a guess that it was thought even less of a possibility in 1984, and a laughable notion in 1974.  For many years Texas Democrats across the board underestimated what a seemingly-parallel structure of organized, smart, well-funded true believers could do.  Certainly we have paid the price for that underestimation and, more importantly, the families of Texas have paid, and paid, and paid.
Although it was prior to the 2011 redistricting, it is noteworthy that the Texas Democrats were only one seat away from taking over the Speaker’s gavel in 2009.  Had we embraced the concept of “run everywhere” and better understood data and projections, the control of the House would not have come down to 20 votes for a Democratic candidate no one had ever heard of or offered help to.  The RPT underestimated how competitive a sufficiently motivated Democratic electorate could be; unfortunately, their underestimation was only bested by that of the TDP.  Just as it appears Texas Democrats have learned their lesson(s), it appears Texas Republicans have not.  And, I’m okay with that.
Winning is not a singular event…it is a process, as illustrated by the Associated Republicans of Texas.  For Texas Democrats that process begins with having smart professionals on the ground, the generosity of big donors, a battle-tested methodology, and steel resolve to see it through.  
The TDP and BGTX can take pride in being wholly underestimated.  The worst case scenario for us would be an outright acknowledgement by Texas Republicans that winter is coming, along with a full-court press to right their ship using policy shifts and self-policing the more extreme elements of their party (which are quickly becoming the mainstream of the RPT).
Every day the RPT and its operative/consultant base stays in the denial stage of grief is another day Texas Democrats and BGTX can take the field unchallenged and work unabated.  Should the RPT progress to the acceptance stage, acknowledge that they are at their peak with zero room to grow in their current form, and take aggressive action to stem the tide, then Texas will be in for a battle.
For now, we are the only team on the field working to get better.  If we stick to the program, trust in our leaders, and execute the game plan, when we meet the opposition on the field of battle we will win.  It may not be 2014 or 2016, or even 2018, but rest assured: it is coming.
There is a clear precedent in recent Texas political history for a four-cycle conversion from one party to another.  Thanks to BGTX, meaningful changes in leadership and function at the TDP, and the Majority’s lurch to the Right of Genghis Khan, Texas Democrats are well on the way to a four-cycle conversion that will deliver a death blow in the 2021 Legislature with a pencil, not a sword.


Filed under Texas Polticis

8 responses to “Texas Republicans Enter The First Stage Of Grief: Denial

  1. Ed

    This is all true and spot-on. The missing ingredient to seeing change in Texas is that of good candidates. We’ve got issues to fight for, now we just need SOMEONE to fight for. We can’t make progress if our people are too afraid to be trailblazers. And the truth is, no matter how well organized we are, we won’t see progress so long as they remain that way.

  2. Emil Carter

    RED IS My Favorite Color, TEXAS is My LOVE, my Birth Place, my Growing up Place. TEXAS WILL ALWAYS Be RED. And I would be willing to give up my Life to see to IT.

  3. It’s a process, yes. It’s a process that has to have a plan, logic and realism to it. If Hinojosa and other hacks can’t get US citizen Hispanic voting rate to closer than within 10 percentage points of the national average (since it isn’t now and hasn’t been for some time), isn’t it stupid to assume that demographics will turn Texas blue? Of course it’s stupid.

    And, even if Hispanics voted at national rates, and at the same party ratio as now, statewide, Texas would still be far from turning blue. Per Mackowiak’s column (and Tom Edsall from the NYT crunching what I just said), with 48 percent of Hispanics, not 38 percent, voting, Mittens still would have won Tejas by 750K. See my linked blog below for more on all of this.

    Disagreeing with whom Mackowiak thinks Dems need to run, he’s right about crappy candidates. For gov, that goes back to 1998. Mauro wasn’t good, and many Dems told him not to run.

    Then came Republican-donating Tony Sanchez in 2002. Mr. Snooze, Chris Bell, in 2006. Mr. Vacuous, Bill White, in 2010. So, if Mayor Castro’s already a no-show for 2014, who will Dems run for governor?


    • Thanks, SG.

      The demographic and miracle turnout are the great white whales of the TDP. Trusting in either of them is foolish.

      In terms of your turnout argument, taking Matt’s numbers as gospel, you are correct that a bump in Hispanic #s alone doesn’t quite get us there.

      Matt and I have a fundamental disagreement about what a first-tier candidate is. When Combs first ran statewide in 1998, she was a failed soft porn writer and retired state rep who was barely average. Todd Staples? Three-term state rep from East Texas. Not a stellar state rep. Jerry Patterson in 2002? A retired state senator with a failed statewide campaign in 1998. When Rick Perry ran for Ag Commish? Mediocre state rep & party switcher. David Dewhurst in 1998? Ex-CIA and oil field rich guy who came out of no where. None of them meet Matt’s lofty estimation of a “first tier” candidate.

      Having said all of that, you are correct that the TDP needs to do a better job of candidate recruitment and a better job of turnout across all demographics in order to win.

      Thanks again for your thoughts. I’ll check out your blog!


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