A number of indicators since the 2016 Presidential election have suggested that Texas may not be as reliable of a red state as it has in the past. From Trump winning just 52.2% of the Texan vote, to Ted Cruz barely scraping a majority over Beto O’Rourke in 2018, and now John Cornyn visibly concerned for not just his future as a Texas Senator, but for Republicans’ electability across the state.
During any presidential election (at least since 1992), there are two extremely safe bets to place: who wins Texas and who wins California. As expected in 2016 Hillary Clinton carried California and Donald Trump carried Texas. But, what demands attention are the margins. Hillary’s 61.5% is safe, Trump’s 52.2% is shocking. Trump’s victory is the lowest margin for a Republican in Texas since George H.W. Bush in 1992, winning by just a 9% margin or 807,179 votes. From a state that backed President George W. Bush with 21.3 and 22.9 point margins and McCain and Romney by 11.8 and 15.8 points respectively, 9 points is low to the point of concern for the GOP. But, the President was just the first sign of Texas becoming more liberal.
In 2018, just two years into Trump’s term, Texas Senator and former Presidential candidate Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Beto O’Rourke with an even more uncomfortable margin. Texas supported Cruz over Trump by 17.1 points in the 2016 presidential primary, so the Republican state should have handed him an easy victory when it came to his senatorial re-election. They did the opposite. Texans gave him a victory, but it was the closest one since 1978, winning a majority by .9%, 214,921 votes, and a marginal victory of just 2.6%. He originally won with 56.6% of Texans backing him.
As with most urban centers in America, Texas cities are typically the blue islands in a sea of red. All except Fort Worth, they have been reliably red, but, much like Texas, they are turning a little pink. Trump carried the county by a majority of just 1.7%. As for Cruz’s re-election, he lost the city to O’Rourke.
Senator Cornyn has seen these warning signs and is trying to convince his party that they need to be on the lookout, and he may not be as lucky as Cruz. After years of being the Republican stronghold and donor state, the tide is turning. Cornyn is urging Texas Republicans and party leaders to take notice, take donations, and wake up to the warning signs that the once ruby red state is turning purple. His seat, he argues, cannot be taken for granted.
Texas remains a haven in the minds of blue state conservatives who supported Senator Cruz who carried out of state transplants while losing native Texans. Texas and the GOP are at risk of losing the identity that draws conservative expats. The lack of identity now creates a power vacuum of sorts in which the GOP can re-ground itself in conservative principles or the Democrats swoop in to steal their thunder. Business friendly policies, low taxes, and low cost of living can be policies adopted by either party it is just a matter of how they sell it. They can be coupled with the Democrat’s socially liberal views on abortion, immigration, and LGBTQ rights; or, with the Republican’s more conservative views on immigration, religious communities, and gun rights. These policies are more free-market capitalist and although blue, Texas cities are not nearly as far left as California or its cities. Texas is up for grabs, it’s just a matter of who is going to take it.
Written by: Brannon March, LSPI Intern