“Everything in Texas is just bigger,” Donald Trump said on Monday night in Houston. At one point, he even referred to one-time presidential rival Ted Cruz as “a really good friend of mine.”
With Donald Trump stumping for him on the hustings in Texas, Ted Cruz looks well positioned for reelection in November.
But that’s nothing to brag about. A Republican president shouldn’t have to go to Texas in October to campaign for an incumbent GOP Senator, nor should there be any doubt about a Republican Senator’s reelection in the Lone Star State.
A Republican beating a Democrat in Texas is like the Dallas Cowboys defeating Texas A&M. It’s not an accomplishment… it’s what you’re supposed to do.
Thanks partly to the “Kavanaugh effect,” but mostly just due to political gravity reasserting itself, Ted Cruz will likely cruise to victory on November 6. (There’s always a chance the stars will align, and O’Rourke will pull off a miracle. But that looks increasingly unlikely.)
On the heels of Trump’s Texas speech, it now appears Team Cruz can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead, they should be vowing to correct their past mistakes.
The fundamental problems persist. Ted Cruz is unlikeable, and the Republican Party faces a looming demographic catastrophe in Texas.
First, though, the lay of the land: Right now, Cruz is leading O’Rourke by 7 to 10 points among likely voters. The bad news for Cruz, though, is that O’Rourke has a 24-point lead among Hispanics.
To win the election, O’Rourke would have to win something like 67% of Hispanic votes. That probably won’t happen, but the fact that it won’t should be cold comfort for Cruz.
As recently as 2014, Republican John Cornyn actually won the Latino vote in Texas. Just four years later, Cruz (who is Hispanic) will perform significantly worse among Latinos than Cornyn. In fairness, O’Rourke is an exceptionally appealing candidate, who also happens to be a fluent Spanish speaker. O’Rourke deserves credit, but the main person to blame for Ted Cruz being in this predicament is Ted Cruz.
Almost immediately upon winning election to the Senate, Cruz’s ego and ambition stunned even those of us who are close watchers of politicians. Instead of paying his dues, being a team player, and learning the ropes, Cruz immediately seized the spotlight by saying and doing the kind of outrageous and provocative things that someone, circa 2012, might imagine a Republican would have to say and do to win a Republican caucus in Iowa.
It didn’t have to be this way. What if—and stick with me here—what if, instead of spending a couple of years gallivanting around Iowa, Ted Cruz had devoted himself to Texas?
What if he were more interested in Abilene than Ames, more focused on Dallas than Des Moines?
Instead, Cruz chose to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to cause a government shutdown as part of a quixotic plan to defund Obamacare, and then to spend a ton of time and energy (and donors’ money) running for president (where, ironically, he was humiliated by Donald Trump—who essentially called Heidi Cruz ugly and suggested Cruz’s dad was somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination).
Imagine if, instead of spending all of that time running for president, Cruz had gone hyper-local. He might have devoted himself to Hispanic outreach, helping identify, recruit, and train young Texas Latinos to run for local office as Republicans. Imagine if he devoted himself to keeping Texas Republican for a generation, using his status as a prominent Hispanic-American Republican to head up a well-funded outreach operation.
Despite being poised to win in November, to many Americans, Ted Cruz is simply not likable—someone who is seen as overly ambitious and phony. He’s a cross between a slick lawyer and a fire-and-brimstone preacher—a Republican simulacrum of Al Gore circa 2000 (although Gore actually won his party’s nomination).
Instead of putting his political ambitions first, Cruz should spend the next six years putting the Republican Party and the people of the state of Texas first. (He appears to have received this message. This weekend, Cruz pledged that if re-elected, he would serve a full six-year term.)
Let’s be honest: Fixing Ted Cruz is a heavy lift, but even that is still only part of the equation. The larger problem is that his likely victory next month will only serve to mask the fact that Texas Republicans face a demographic challenge. As the Texas Tribune observes, “Since 2010, Texas has gained more than three times as many Hispanic residents than whites.”
Unlike California, Texas Republicans have generally been able to perform fairly well with Hispanics (see George W. Bush and John Cornyn). But since the rise of the Tea Party (and now, the election of Donald Trump), Republicans’ fear of Hispanics voting as a bloc for Democrats might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Again, O’Rourke is an exceptional candidate, but if you consider that Cornyn won the Hispanic vote in 2014 and that Cruz is losing it by 24 points, this trend does not bode well for Republicans.
For years now, political observers have been warning that Texas is changing. Every time that outcome fails to materialize, it reinforces the notion it’s just talk. Elections are a lagging indicator of demographic change. Ultimately, though, demographics can be destiny.
Let’s be clear: If Republicans start out with an electoral map that shows them losing California and New York—and then have to fight tooth and nail just to win Texas—it’s essentially game over.
Instead of celebrating, Cruz and Texas Republicans need to rededicate themselves to finding a way to win the future.
If they’re smart, they won’t let a likely victory keep them from confronting some serious challenges ahead. Instead of celebrating on November 6th, Ted Cruz and the Republican Party should both consider that they just dodged a (metaphorical) bullet. And more are headed their way.