Political Hay

A Sour Texas Runoff

Nothing really conservative about Tuesday's vote.

By 5.29.14

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We shouldn’t read too much — not yet we shouldn’t — into those Texas Republican primary outcomes hailed, depending on your viewpoint, as victories for patriotism or right-wing nuttiness.

Only about 750,000 voted in the run-off election, whose top contest featured two conservatives vying for the lieutenant governorship. This was a bit more than half the number who voted in the March primary. The statewide Democratic slate in this onetime citadel of conservative Democrats couldn’t win a municipal election. That includes the celebrated State Sen. Wendy Davis, who has offered herself for the governorship.

The Republican primary certainly wasn’t a filtering process for talent. The victorious candidate for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Dan Patrick, makes Glenn Beck (currently a Texas resident) seem like the nerdy guy at the high school prom, wondering whether Susie will dance with him. Not that his incumbent opponent, David Dewhurst, who lost the U.S. Senate race in 2012 to Ted Cruz, is any conservative paladin. He’d been around too long — three terms already. His time to leave had come.

It will be fun now to see what the head of a single legislative chamber in a weak-government state really does, as opposed to what he says he will do, about sealing the Mexican border and “upgrading” a public school system no previous state official has found it possible to improve. State Sen. Ken Paxton, the new attorney general (as we might as well proclaim him) is OK but not any better than, maybe not even as smart, as the “establishment” candidate he defeated in the primary, Rep. Dan Branch. Still, he won. He doesn’t like the way things are going.

Well, neither do a lot of people around here, for good and sufficient reasons. What are you going to do about it, though, in practical terms, is the question that rarely comes up for examination. “Seal” the border? Tell us another one, Dan. It can’t be done by the state, and the state as a whole wouldn’t support it if it were tried.

The Dan Patrick–Tea Party–Club for Growth style in Texas Republican circles is more about noise than know-how. That’s perhaps the key to the whole conservative enterprise in Texas right now. Nobody likes life under Obama: I mean, nobody sufficiently motivated to vote in a Republican primary. Everybody wants to talk about moving on to something else. The mission becomes that of making more noise — righteous noise, if you please — than your opponent. Which doesn’t get the job done if and when anger turns to mere spluttering and chest-thumping, à la Patrick.

The fervency that grips Texas Republicans is commendable; a little less commendable, it seems to me, is the current penchant for throwing out or defaming people you see as unreliable, just because they may not see eye-to-eye with you on strategy. Even Ralph Hall, a 91-year-old Republican conservative congressman from the Dallas area, got tossed because a 48-year-old opponent claimed he himself could better fight the good fight. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t.

Claims of extraordinary personal virtue and merit stud this primary season. We’ll start to sort them out in Texas, it appears, around January 2015. 

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About the Author

William Murchison is a Dallas-based columnist for Creators Syndicate. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.