November’s election revealed many things about our current political landscape, the most striking of which is that the Democratic coalition is not as ironclad as once thought.
It was apparent throughout the nation, as Republicans held (and gained) seats in state legislatures and Congress, despite nearly every poll and pundit predicting a GOP collapse under a blue wave.
And it was evident along Texas’ southern border, where a surprising number of Hispanics voted for Donald Trump, who surpassed his 2016 vote totals in some areas.
While it’s hard to know if the inroads made with working-class white voters and minorities are a response to Trump’s cult of personality, his policies or a rejection of progressivism gone wild in 2020, it’s clear that Republicans — in Texas, in particular — have an opportunity to exploit the Democratic Party’s weaknesses and capitalize on their own gains.
What are they doing instead?
Eating their own.
And it makes no sense.
In North Texas, Shelley Luther, who came to fame as a shutdown defiant small-business owner, is attacking Gov. Greg Abbott for his “tyrannical” COVID-era restrictions.
The governor, whose leadership during the pandemic has been imperfect but hardly draconian, has unsurprisingly endorsed her opponent in their upcoming runoff.
One-term congressman and newbie Texas GOP party chairman Allen West has busied himself suing the governor over extending early voting (which, it’s worth pointing out, didn’t hand the statehouse to Democrats or Texas’ 38 electoral votes to Biden) and poisoning the well with the likely next Texas House Speaker, Rep. Dade Phelan.
Speaking of lawsuits, state Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose lingering legal troubles should give his party pause, is leading a likely futile Hail Mary attempt to overturn the presidential election in four states where fraud is suspected but unproven.
Sen. John Cornyn has questioned the legal rationale of such a challenge. “Why would a state, even such a great state as Texas, have a say-so on how other states administer their elections?” he asked on CNN.
Just imagine if the tables were turned.
Meanwhile, Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz, expressed a willingness to argue a separate (and since dismissed) legal challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, in the vain hope of changing the election’s outcome.
In a lot of ways, this is the story of the contemporary Republican Party, at least the party under Trump: Lots of squabbling and infighting, a lack of cohesion and vision, a dearth of leadership and the most extreme elements (or at least the loudest) garnering undue attention.
It’s as if these problems are not a flaw but a feature.
And maybe in a year as bizarre as this one, they were.
After all, 2018 was a far worse year for the Texas GOP, which endured major losses during Trump’s midterm election.
But moving forward, intraparty fighting can’t be a path for success.
Leading up to November, many in the political class argued that Texas was an emerging battleground.
That proved wrong this time, but it may be yet, especially if the Texas GOP squanders its gains in communities once considered a lost cause.
Come January, the Biden-Harris administration will give Texas Republicans plenty of reasons to fight — and plenty of opportunities for worthy legal challenges. And it will seek to woo back Hispanics and other winnable groups if the GOP loses its focus.
It must not allow that to happen.
It would be better for Republicans, and Texans in general, if the Texas GOP (and its loudest members) kept their powder dry until then.
Cynthia M. Allen is a Star-Telegram editorial writer/columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org