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Have Texas Republicans finally damaged themselves?

Some of them have. How much remains to be seen.

The brutal winter storm that turned Texas roads to ice, burst pipes across the state and left millions of residents shivering and without power has also damaged the reputations of three of the state’s leading Republicans.

Sen. Ted Cruz was discovered to have slipped off to Mexico on Wednesday night, only to announce his return when he was caught in the act. Gov. Greg Abbott came under fire over his leadership and misleading claims about the causes of the power outages. And former Gov. Rick Perry suggested Texans preferred power failures to federal regulation, a callous note in a moment of widespread suffering.

It’s more than just a public relations crisis for the three politicians. The storm has also battered the swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity on the national stage.

“Texans are angry and they have every right to be. Failed power, water and communications surely took some lives,” JoAnn Fleming, a Texas conservative activist and executive director of a group called Grassroots America, said in a text message exchange with POLITICO.

“The Texas electric grid is not secure,” said Fleming, pointing out that lawmakers “have been talking about shoring up/protecting the Texas electric grid for THREE legislative sessions (6 yrs),” but “every session special energy interests kill the bills with Republicans in charge … Our politicians spend too much time listening to monied lobbyists & political consultants. Not enough time actually listening to real people.”

[…]

Democrats sought to heighten the contrast between Cruz and his 2018 Senate opponent, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, by pointing out that the senator went to Cancun and tweeted about the death of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh while his former rival stayed in El Paso and tried to marshal his social media followers to help fellow Texans.

“It’s extremely important in governing and politics to be seen doing things,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas Republican strategist. “It’s important to be seen leading.”

Steinhauser said Abbott established himself as a leader in previous crises but took longer after the storm because he “had to find his footing. At first, he probably didn’t think the blackouts would last as long as they did.”

We’re at peak bad news for these guys – and now you can add State Rep. Gary Gates to that list – but who knows how long it will last. It’s also hard to take anything JoAnn Fleming says seriously, as she’s one of the major wingnut power brokers in North Texas. It’s one thing for someone like her to be mad at these guys, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to vote for a Democrat against them.

And that’s ultimately what this comes down to. Greg Abbott doesn’t have an opponent yet (though hold on, we’ll get back to that in a minute), Ted Cruz isn’t on any ballot until 2024, and Rick Perry is a Dancing with the Stars has-been. If there’s anger at them for their words and deeds and lack of action, that’s great, but it only goes so far. What if anything will this be channeled into?

One possible vehicle until such time as there’s a candidate running against Greg Abbott is President Biden. He’s done all the Presidential things to help Texas recover, and he’s coming for a visit next week, both of which have the chance to make people like him a little bit more. This is an opportunity for him as an example of good leadership, and also for future legislative proposals. If that translates into better approval/favorability numbers for Biden in Texas, that should help the Democratic slate next year. The longer the national GOP remains in disarray as well, the better.

The leadership example, if it can stand as a contrast to what Abbott et al have been doing, can serve as the baseline argument in 2022 and beyond for change in our state government.

What happened over the last four or five days, as the state became the subject of national and international pity and head-shaking, could undo years of economic development promotion, corporate relocation work and tourism campaigns.

It makes it a lot easier on the competition. Who wants to go to a failed state? Sure, there is no income tax. But we’re rationing gas, turning off electricity for millions of households and boiling water so it doesn’t poison us. Austin even closed a hospital and moved the patients when they couldn’t rely on heat or water.

In a hospital.

The light regulation here has been a key part of the business pitch. But the dark side was showing this week in the failures of our basic infrastructure.

Electricity here is cheaper than many other places, and it works, most of the time. But at some point, the corners we cut to keep electricity prices low turn into reliability problems. The cost-cutting shows up in the quality of the product. And the product, when it comes to infrastructure, is critical to the quality of life and the economy.

It’s a great state with a faltering state government. The political people running things too often worry more about their popularity than about their work. Too many of them are better at politics than they are at governing. And governing is the only real reason any of the rest of us have any interest in them.

Putting that another way:

Fixing ERCOT will require actual governance, as opposed to performative governance, and that is something the state’s leadership has struggled with of late. Rather than address the challenges associated with rapid growth, the state’s elected leaders have preferred to focus on various lib-owning initiatives such as the menace of transgender athletes, whether or not NBA games feature the national anthem, and—in a triumph of a certain brand of contemporary “conservatism”—legislating how local municipalities can allocate their own funds.

I’m anxious to see how our governor, in particular, will respond to this crisis, because I have never witnessed a more cowardly politician. When Abbott faces a challenge—and he has faced several in the past year alone—you can always depend on him to take the shape of water, forever finding the path of least resistance. I have no idea why the man became a politician, as I can discern no animating motive behind his acts beyond just staying in office.

During the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of 41,000 Texans so far, the governor first delegated as much responsibility—and political risk—as possible to the state’s mayors and county judges. When those same local officials decided that things like mask mandates and restaurant closures might be good ideas, which became unpopular with the governor’s donors, he overruled them. But when deaths spiked, Abbot decided that—surprise!—local leaders had retained the power to enforce mask mandates all along and that it was their fault for not solving his coronavirus riddle.

I am anxious to see how the governor weasels his way out of responsibility for what happens next. I wouldn’t want to be Texas’s new speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, to whom the governor will likely attempt to shift all the blame.

This is an opportunity for someone to say “It doesn’t have to be like this” and maybe get heard in a way that’s been nigh-impossible for Texas Democrats in recent years, Beto in 2018 semi-excepted. Even if the main effect is to make normal Republican voters less excited about supporting their team in 2022, that helps too.

But first we need someone to step up and make that argument. We know Beto is thinking about it, and at last report, Julian Castro was not inclined to run. But that Politico story also has this tidbit:

“Whether it’s Abbott’s failed response or Cruz’s abandoning of our state, we shouldn’t put people in charge of government who don’t believe in government. They fail us every time,” said former federal Housing Secretary Julián Castro, a Democrat who’s considering a bid against Abbott or Cruz.

Emphasis mine. Who knows what that means, or how it’s sourced. I mean, despite that earlier story about Castro, he’s a potential candidate until he’s not. Who even knows if Ted Cruz will run for re-election in 2024 – we all know he wants to run for President again, however ridiculous that may sound now – so considering a bid against Abbott is the only one that makes sense. I’d like to hear him say those words himself before I believe it, but I feel duty-bound to note that paragraph. We can hope from there.

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7 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it at the polls.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Abbott will no doubt face a pro-Trump primary challenger, and I will vote for that primary opponent. I’m pissed about the mask mandate, too, but not in the same way Kuff is.

    As to Cruz, I didn’t fault him for wanting to blow town, but he gets legitimate blow back for being a hypocrite. He jumped on the bandwagon to call out other politicians for doing the same thing. So he deserves scorn, although that won’t stop me from voting for him again in 2024. Having said that, what do we expect Cruz to be doing? Putting on his climbing gear, chipping ice off of windmills?

    The ONLY thing the federal government could have done to help Texas was allow us to disregard the pollution rules and crank up everything. Cruz didn’t have any power to do that….only Biden did, and Biden didn’t do that.

    By the time FEMA rolls into town with generators, and whatever else, it’s too late. Power’s back on, water is back. There’s really nothing Cruz could have done for us, other than be here so he could “feel our pain,” and even that…..if I had Cruz’ money, I’d have a whole house generator that automatically kicks on. Does Cruz have a whole house generator? If he does, what did we expect him to do? Shut it off in solidarity with the rest of Houston? That’s bordering on the ridiculous. Should Pelosi shut off her $ 24,000 freezer so her ice cream gets soft, to be in solidarity with me, who had a carton of pistachio almond and pecan pralines and cream get a little soft? I mean, maybe she should suffer the indignity of having to make milkshakes with the ice cream like I am having to do. And….here’s the real horror…..I am out of vanilla extract.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    We can do something about Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz, Sheila Jackson Lee, Ken Paxton, Louis Gohmert. We can vote ’em out and the entire cast of self serving greedy incumbents. Mayor Turner is term limited out. But we can’t vote out ERCOT members, which are all lawyers and intellectuals, who have no idea how to keep electrons from spilling out of a grid.

    No offense, however, I don’t know what presidential things that Pres. Biden has done. I have not had either one of Abbott nor Biden show up at my place to help out. Neither one of them drove around the city with a giant truck full of plumbing supplies, or food, or even show up to wave like Trump did when he had Covid and drove around the block to wave.

    Maybe Biden’s presidential things will be like Gov. Cuomo who did everything a president should do, according to the media. Now, he is going on trial as we found out that what he really did was preside over the killing fields. Perhaps one day the media will start telling us about how Biden is racist,and also, how the US is at 500,000 Covid deaths. In just one month, Biden killed one fifth of those who died.

  4. Lobo says:

    LET THEM EVACUATE TO CANCUN & VANILLA ME-ISM

    The real horror is — or, should be — the failure of man of care for and about fellow man.

    Not to mention proudly propagating the callousness.

  5. Greg Shaw says:

    I don’t think anybody but me reads the comments, but here goes:
    I live in the district. A Democrat could win but it has to be one that reflects the values of the district, not those of the primary votes. That means a moderate Blue Dog.
    Elizabeth is a qualified but she should be running the Heights, not northwest Fort Bend County.
    Alas, the Democrats would rather lose and brag about the high-level of “woke-ness.”

  6. Ross says:

    Bill, that emergency order you linked to elsewhere doesn’t say what you think it does. It allowed the plants to crank up as needed, but not forever, and there would be certain reporting requirements. Go reread it, get your Mom, Dad, or a smart neighbor to help with the big words, and get a better understanding of just what it says.

  7. Marc says:

    This is a real problem with Democrats – there is a level of performative progressiveness that turns off voters that might otherwise be inclined to support us. One thing Republicans figured out is that you have to be win elections to have the power to be able to govern. Of course, they only figured out the first part of that, not the second part about governing.

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