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Republicans: Still worried about the Trump effect in Texas

The continuing story.

Texas Republicans are slowly coming to grips with the unthinkable: Hillary Clinton has a shot at winning the nation’s most iconic red state.

The odds are long, they say, in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic for president in 40 years. But in recent polling data and early voting results, they are also seeing signs of the perfect storm of demographic and political forces it would take to turn Texas blue.

According to some Republican and nonpartisan pollsters, Donald Trump is turning off enough core GOP constituencies and motivating Hispanic voters in ways that could pump up Clinton’s performance to higher levels than a Democratic nominee has seen in decades. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the state in a 16-point blowout. The current spread is just five points, according to the the RealClearPolitics polling average.

“I think that Texas is competitive this year,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP operative. “I think it’ll be much closer than usual. I think it’s because of the Trump factor.”

Steinhauser still expects Trump to end up on top. But the very idea that Texas — which gave Romney a nearly 1.3 million-vote winning margin — might be in play is an affront to some Republicans, a notion that would have seemed preposterous at the beginning of the election year. Texas is the beating heart of the modern Republican Party, and the cornerstone of any GOP nominee’s electoral strategy. It’s also home to the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and to two serious recent GOP contenders for the White House, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.

[…]

There’s still no indication that Clinton will even make a concerted effort to win the state’s 38 electoral votes. Allies described limited paid media buys touting her Dallas Morning News endorsement; one of her top Texas surrogates, 2014 gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, has largely been deployed to more competitive swing states.

Davis was skeptical of Clinton’s odds of winning the state this year, saying it’s too soon to read much into early voting figures or polling.

“It’s certainly the case that there’s a perfect storm right now, where we have a candidate, Donald Trump who’s particularly reviled by Latinas, African-Americans and women,” she said, pointing out that even a whisper of hope for Democrats this year could pay dividends in down-ballot races and in future elections.

Trump’s candidacy, she said, will be used as a bludgeon in 2018 when a slew of elected Republicans — from Abbott to Cruz — seek reelection. And any inroads Democrats make this year, Davis said, could encourage other Democrats to seek office.

“I think it could,” she said. “A lot of people in Texas who are considering running statewide in the future are going to be closely watching what the indications are coming out of this election and re-analyzing the possibilities of when it makes sense to try to launch again a statewide race in Texas. I think we’re going to see a lot of new Hispanic voters in this election, African-American voters and of course fair-minded Anglos that we can build a coalition around.”

Republicans aren’t thinking that far ahead. They’re busy fretting over the possibility that even if Trump wins, a weak finish could leave a trail of vanquished down-ballot Republicans behind.
“Would [Democrats] rightly consider it a moral victory if Trump were held to single digits in Texas? Maybe,” said Travis County Republican chairman James Dickey. “But the real question is, if the margin slides from double digits to low single digits, who else becomes jeopardized?”

Three points to make here. One is what James Dickey says, which is simply that races that Republicans won comfortably when Mitt Romney was carrying the state by 16 points might not be so comfortable if Donald Trump is winning by three. And two, as Wendy Davis says, this does give Democrats a starting point and rallying cry for 2018. If Donald Trump can motivate people to vote this year, then maybe he can help motivate them to vote in 2018. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you have to start somewhere.

These are things we’ve discussed before. The third point I want to make is to note the dog that hasn’t barked. In 2012, Republican pollsters Mike Baselice and Chris Perkins released results that showed Mitt Romney with a comfortable lead in the Presidential race in Texas. Both polls were firmly in the range of the others that were made public, and both were pretty accurate on both the margin and the percentage for Romney and President Obama. Neither has released a poll result this cycle. I’m sure they have conducted polls this year – they’re top-level Republican operatives, they work for Republican campaigns, this is literally what they get paid to do, it beggars the imagination to think they haven’t done polls this year. Yet they haven’t released any poll numbers this year. Why do you think that might be true? The obvious answer is that their data would confirm what all the other polls have been saying, which is that this is a historically close race. It’s even possible they’re seeing worse numbers than what the other polls have shown. Surely if they had data to contradict the current narrative of a close race, it would be in their interest to put it out there. The fact that they haven’t done so isn’t conclusive of anything, but it sure as hell is suggestive.

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