Texas GOP bets on a right turn in a changing demographics
AUSTIN, Texas – Republicans in America’s largest conservative state have won victories for years under the slogan “Keep Texas Red,” a pledge to reverse an upcoming blue wave that Democrats say was inevitable given the demographic evolution.
Now those demographic transformations have arrived, with the 2020 census confirming that the state has become bigger, more suburban, and much more diverse. Still, a more appropriate state GOP rallying cry for today might be “Make Texas Even Redder.”
Faced with growing demographic threats to their party’s dominance, Republicans in Texas have championed a host of conservative, boundary-pushing policies that dramatically expand gun rights, limit abortions, and tighten election laws – ruling even more a state that was already far to the right.
Far from tiptoeing towards the middle to appease the Democrat-leaning Texans who are spurring population growth, the party is embracing its grassroots and vowing to use a new round of redistribution to ensure things stay that way until 2030 – becoming a national model for staying on the offensive no matter how the political winds may turn.
“Texas, of course, is a national leader when it comes to the laws we pass and the other states follow,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who likes to promise to make Texas the “capital of freedom of the world” said Tuesday. ‘America”.
Abbott, who is running for re-election next year and often mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, signed a voting law on Tuesday that allows observers who support polls and bans a host of measures that have facilitated the voting in strongly democratic cities amid the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans argue the new rules make elections more secure and have rushed to pass them, even as Democratic state lawmakers have fled the state for weeks to block them.
The voting law was almost overshadowed by the national debate over another new Texas law – the country’s toughest abortion restriction package. By banning the procedure in most cases and leaving no exceptions for rape and incest cases, the state has perhaps mounted the strongest threat to date against Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to abortion.
Another new law allows virtually any Texan aged 21 and over to carry firearms without a license. Other laws prohibited schools from teaching institutional racism and limited cities across the state from making decisions about police funding, environmental budgeting, and mask mandates. And on Tuesday, Abbott called on lawmakers to try again to impose restrictions on transgender student athletes when the Legislature meets later this month to begin drawing new voting cards.
These political victories are about to be cemented for the foreseeable future. Since Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, the party will decide on new congressional and state districts based on the 2020 census figures – seeking to make the boundaries as favorable as possible so that the GOP can hold the majority of states for the next decade and beyond.
The new maps will have to counter what appears to be unfavorable census data for Texas Republicans. The state’s Hispanic population has grown by nearly 2 million, according to 2020 census figures, accounting for half of the increase in the total population of Texas. Even though the GOP made gains with Hispanic voters, about 6 in 10 Hispanics in Texas chose Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump in November, according to AP VoteCast, a voter survey.
Republicans are also seeing warning signs in the suburbs. The state is home to four of the nation’s 10 fastest growing cities, fueled by thriving communities outside of Houston, Dallas, and Austin. After years of GOP advantages in these places, Biden split suburban Texas voters with Trump, discovered AP VoteCast, and won the state’s five largest counties.
Democrats blame rampant conservatism on Trumpism. The former president ushered in “a new, more fiery Republican Party.” It’s more marginal, ”said Democratic State Representative Ron Reynolds, vice-chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
“The cow left the barn and it’s hard to put her back in place,” said Reynolds, whose district includes the burgeoning suburb of Houston. “They have to entertain and they have to appease because these are the people who are excited to vote in the Republican primaries.”
Democrats like Reynolds warn there will be a backlash from voters. But they have little history to back it up: Republicans haven’t lost a statewide race for 27 years and say it’s a staunch commitment to conservatism, not a pragmatic compromise, which preserved the longest streak of electoral victories in the country.
“If anyone expected it, his head is way too far away from his, uh, philosophy,” joked Corbin Casteel, director of the Trump campaign in Texas in 2016, of any idea that the census figures could cause Republicans in the state to move to the center.
Even more moderate Republicans in Texas say past statements about demographics helping Democrats have been exaggerated. “The rumors of our disappearance have been greatly exaggerated,” said State Representative Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches in east Texas.
“We continue to win with really strong numbers,” added Clardy. “I don’t think we had strident, extreme, right-wing positions. I think we have governed conservatively.
However, the party has shown a capacity for moderation in the not so distant past. After a Democratic wave swept through Texas and the nation in 2018, the GOP had an extremely quiet legislative session, focusing on traditional issues such as property tax cuts and public education.
It was only after the party took the legislature and won seats in Congress last November that it turned right, anticipating that the biggest electoral threat to its members in the future would be the main challenges instead. than being overthrown by the Democrats.
“I’ve heard that all of this demographic shift is going to catch up with the old white party, but I don’t think it happened,” Clardy said. “The numbers may change, but they may not change the way they think they are. “
The movement to the right is perhaps best exemplified by Abbott, a former state Supreme Court justice who was once considered to have a more measured and deliberative approach to work, but who has recently gone even more to the right than the legislature – especially on immigration.
The governor recently ordered state police to arrest those suspected of being in the country illegally and ordered a state agency to pay $ 25 million for 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) of wall along the nearly 1,200 mile (1,930 kilometer) Texas border with Mexico. .
No top Democrat has yet announced a candidacy against Abbott, although former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke – who was 3 percentage points from the wrath of Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 – could still do so. . The governor has already issued a main challenge to former Congressman Allen West, a former Tea Party darling known for comparing Democrats to Nazis.
Casteel said doubling down on conservative values worked for Republicans in Texas and beyond. He singled out Abbott and another governor and possible 2024 presidential candidate, Republican Ron DeSantis of Florida. Both have gained national followers by being prepared to fight unpopular policies like universal mask mandates. This is despite Democrats in both states insisting that governors’ failure to fight the pandemic more vigorously could ultimately undermine their re-election aspirations – let alone the White House.
“He was faced with circumstances that few governors have, with the pandemic and all kinds of other things putting the Tories in a bind,” Casteel said of Abbott. “It’s security against freedom and he – and people like Governor DeSantis – they got that needle threaded really well. And I think the results speak for themselves.
Weissert reported from Washington.