Trump leads in Texas but does not likely have the staying power of Patrick or Cruz

cruz and trump

Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump

Some were surprised this week to find out that a poll of likely Republican Texas voters puts real estate magnate and provocateur Donald Trump ahead of Sen. Ted Cruz in the Junior Senator’s home state by a significant margin. In the poll, Trump is the choice of 24% of likely GOP voters here. Cruz is second, winning the support of 16% of Republicans questioned in the survey conducted by Gravis Marketing and commissioned by the Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee.

Committing the sin of reading too much into one poll is not something I’m about to do. Instead, it is worth nothing at this point in the 2016 cycle that, at least anecdotally, the over-the-top rhetoric offered by Trump on the campaign trail is the same kind of vitriol rewarded by GOP voters across Texas in the 2014 election cycle.

Reporting on Texas House and Senate races – as well as the statewide contests in 2014 – presented the eye-opening opportunity to travel thousands of miles and engage with GOP voters at town halls, forums, and other events throughout the grueling primary. The folks who attended those events are the same kind of voters who regularly drive around their neighborhoods looking for “Vote Here” signs to make sure they don’t miss an election. The most active of the active.

One of the most striking characteristics of that voter is their palpable desire to see candidates really duke it out, loudly proclaim their conservatism, and “not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.” Then-Sen. Dan Patrick excelled at this in a way that could not be overcome by three other qualified candidates vying to hold the gavel in the Texas Senate.


Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

When Patrick clashed with incumbent David Dewhurst in a debate in Kerrville during the runoff, for example, voters who preferred the senator from Houston said his best attributes were fearlessness and full-throated conservatism.

“I like Dan for the same reason I like Ted Cruz,” one voter said after the debate hosted by the Republican Women of Kerr County. When that voter was reminded that Patrick and Cruz have fought publicly – the prime example being this interview on Patrick’s Houston radio show when he schooled Cruz on how the Texas Senate works – the response was “Well, I like that Dan stood up to Cruz!”

“You like that Patrick stood up to the guy you like?” I asked in an attempt to figure this out.

“Absolutely. I want a fighter,” was the answer.


I had similar conversations with Republican voters in Houston, DFW, East Texas, and elsewhere.

The phenomenon is something of a paradox. It’s a cult of personality in which the follower is convinced the leader’s personality does not matter as much as their willingness to stand on principle, even if that leader has switched positions on major issues.

Like Trump now, Patrick during the 2014 campaign successfully seized on the issue that most inflames the Republican base: illegal immigration and border security. You may recall Patrick ran television ads claiming that foreign terrorists might be flooding across the Texas-Mexico border. One of Patrick’s campaign logos was a fence secured with a padlock.

In speech after speech, Patrick spoke Trump-style about the perceived threat of “criminal aliens” entering Texas and he regularly rattled off statistics that have since been debunked.

Like Trump, Patrick provided very few details about how he would combat the problem, other than banning “sanctuary cities” and ending in-state tuition rates for undocumented students – neither of which were even debated on the Senate floor with Patrick as presiding officer.

Unlike Trump, however, Patrick has showed time and again he is a leader of substance.

Patrick has received high praise for his time as Senate Education Committee chairman. It’s a role in which he pushed sweeping bipartisan reforms to curriculum, standardized testing, and charter schools. Even some fairly liberal education advocates have said privately that Patrick was always “one of the best-prepared and knowledgeable chairmen” they had ever seen in action even when they did not agree with him.

Patrick is a much more talented and substantive politician than Cruz, but it would be foolish to suggest Cruz does not bring considerable oratorical skills and actual policy chops to the table. An undeniable difference between them, though, is Patrick over the years has learned to abide by Ronald Reagan’s commandment to never speak ill of another Republican. That was not the case back when Patrick was mainly a radio talk show host, by the way. Cruz’s campaign, meanwhile, is based largely on an outright rejection of Reagan’s admonition.

Sen. Patrick’s most significant protest while in office – his surprise “no” vote on the Texas budget’s final passage in 2013 – was cynical but had no policy consequence because the spending plan had broad support and passed overwhelmingly anyway. Shortly after the vote, Patrick would only say he did not like how some of the Rainy Day Fund was spent. Aided by the highly suspect analysis of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Patrick later used the vote to falsely flog Dewhurst as a liberal spender. On the other hand, Sen. Cruz’s biggest protest, the government shutdown, threatened the American economy, failed to achieve the stated objective of killing Obamacare, and he has since tried to deny responsibility for it.

Despite that, one thing some political observers get wrong about Cruz is deeming him a wild-eyed zealot, which is not at all the way he is perceived by many Republican voters, particularly in Texas. To many, Cruz is a steady voice for their frustrations.

Even though there were long breaks between his airtime at the first presidential debate, when Cruz did get to speak he was as steady as ever, consistently thumbing his nose at the “Washington Cartel.” That’s undoubtedly why he went up in the polls following the performance. He did not swing for the fences. Instead, he was steady.

Donald Trump has demonstrated none of the seriousness or steadiness of a Patrick or a Cruz.

Trump’s bluster is clearly what Texas Republicans prefer for the moment. How durable that is remains an open question.

Copyright August 20, 2015, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

Comments are closed.