Maybe the GOP Civil War in Texas Really is Over

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Texas, addresses the state GOP convention in San Antonio.

Perhaps every column should now start like this: Before you’re done reading, the president may tweet something that changes almost everything I’m about to say.

In his speech at the Texas GOP convention last month and again in emails to supporters, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – who finished about 15 points behind Gov. Greg Abbott in the primary but remains the spiritual leader of the party – declared there is no civil war among Republicans. Patrick argued that at this point, any assertion to the contrary is solely a media creation.

“As we saw clearly in our Primary Election in March, when it comes to the key issues that are central to the work we are doing in the Legislature in Austin, we are close to unanimity,” Patrick said, pointing to ballot questions voters answered about things like toll roads, abortion, and how the speaker should be chosen.

Setting aside the vicious and ineffective attacks lobbed by “conservative” groups and Gov. Greg Abbott against Texas House Republicans leading up to the March primary, let’s entertain the idea that Patrick is correct.

The GOP Civil War is now concluded, with Patrick on the winning side, after most of those who disagree with him on some core issues have been driven out.

That scenario would be the photo negative of a time decades ago when Gov. Ann Richards and her fellow liberals plotted to purify the Texas Democratic Party as it enjoyed a majority. “Unfortunately, we were very successful,” the late governor joked in the years afterward.

In 2016, there were two major themes at the state GOP convention: First, it was a homecoming for Sen. Ted Cruz after he was eliminated from the race for the White House and angered Republicans with his reluctance to endorse then-nominee Donald Trump.

Second, the fight over the bathroom bill began in earnest as Patrick seized on a guidance to school districts issued by then-President Barack Obama. Since then, Cruz has fully rehabilitated himself among Republicans (his signs were as good as cash at the RPT, per one observer) and Patrick is wondering why anyone is even talking about bathroom regulations anymore (declaring victory by saying schools and businesses have taken appropriate steps to ensure privacy).

In ‘16, Texans for Lawsuit Reform waged a serious campaign to undermine the “bathroom bill” candidate for RPT Chairman, former Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill.

Woodfill and archconservative Dr. Steve Hotze had, with Patrick’s help, defeated the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, including protections for transgender Houstonians. There was no sign that TLR was a player in this year’s fight for RPT chair and the business lobby, with some exceptions, was not present for discussions of the governing party’s platform.

As for other business folks, AT&T pulled funding from the convention and other groups that would typically at least have a hospitality room on site were instead across the street at the Straus/Cornyn “censure party,” as one attendee called the reception with a laugh. As you know, Speaker Joe Straus was censured by the party earlier this year. An attempt to censure Sen. John Cornyn fizzled early during the GOP convention.

GOP Chairman James Dickey, the Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life candidate, has boasted of big corporate support.

Those “corporate” dollars seem to be largely flowing from the Texas Right to Life nonprofit corporation. Dickey is also relying on candidates for cash, according to our sources, asking statewides like Glenn Hegar, Abbott, Patrick and others to keep the party afloat heading toward November. Campaign veterans will appreciate that it should be the other way around: The party should be providing political infrastructure for its candidates.

“We have several big names that have increased donations and come on board,” Dickey said. “While I respect and value every corporate partner of the party, I am pleased that this year’s results show we are not overly dependent on any single sponsor.”

Chairman Dickey shrewdly played The Beatles’ tune “Come Together” at campaign events leading up to his reelection to preside over the largest state GOP in the United States.

Coming together first: Empower Texans Chairman Tim Dunn and the Wilks Brothers are now writing many of the checks. But a key question is whether these folks will be willing to deploy resources to protect their vulnerable candidates in November like Sen. Konni Burton and Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who was already in the political bullseye of Dallas County before bragging that he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year to round up people protesting against a “sanctuary cities” ban.

Defending seats against possibly resurgent Democrats (or Democrats at all, really) will be new territory for Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life – campaign organizations optimized to defeat fellow Republicans.

So, the responsibility may fall to Abbott to spend at least some of his $45 million to help unite the same GOP he divided so bitterly leading up to the March primary.

Gov. Greg Abbott campaigns in Houston with Susanna Dokupil, who ran against Rep. Sarah Davis in the GOP primary.

“He’s shooting blanks,” said one Republican House member, commenting on Abbott’s record of trying to exact revenge with his endorsements and largesse directed to fringe candidates in the challenges to Chairs Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson.

Counter-intuitively, Democratic gains could help Patrick and Abbott assert more power over the House, which did not always bow down to them in 2017.

Simply put, the fewer members in a caucus the easier they are to wrangle. A larger caucus can be more powerful when united but is typically unwieldy. But no matter how many Republicans return after November, one consequence of the governor and lieutenant governor’s war on the lower chamber last year is a GOP Caucus that mostly understands the importance of the House as an institution.

And why should Abbott care if some Democrats win in the general election?

Remember, it was Abbott who said in March that Rep. Davis’ seat in Houston is blue anyway. His rhetoric that she and Rep. Larson should campaign as the “Democrats they really are” could roughly translate to “a Democrat is preferable to a Republican who isn’t a rubber stamp for me.”

With as many as 18 House seats now possibly in play this fall, those Republican districts where Trump was underwater in ’16, Patrick and Abbott might get the smaller, more compliant caucus they’ve helped set the stage for. 8 to 12 seats is probably more realistic.

Of course, no team knows how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like Texas Democrats, so the governor probably shouldn’t get his hopes up too much.

The full story on Texas politics is in the Quorum Report. Copyright 2018, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. 

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