In the classic movie Jaws, Chief Brody chums the water in the search for the killer shark. When the shark appears, it’s much larger than he reckoned. Terrified, Brody’s eyes go wide and as he backs away from the deck to the galley, turns to Captain Quint and says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Texas Republicans may need a bigger boat, according to the Dallas Morning News in a post-election celebration of how Texas Hispanics could paint the Lone Star State blue.
After the 2018 mid-terms, Texas Republicans may indeed be looking for their own bigger replacement for the political orca. The Texas GOP lost 12 state house seats, two congressional seats and two seats in the state senate.
But. In September ahead of the mid-terms, Texas Republicans flipped a long-time Democrat-held state senate seat in San Antonio. A special election propelled Republican Pete Flores to the state senate, shocking the whole state and providing a possible clue to how the Republicans can hold on.
And, Texas Republicans held onto all of the contested statewide seats. No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1990. Gov. Greg Abbott’s wide re-election margin suggests it will be a few cycles yet before Democrats become competitive in the state’s big prizes, if they ever do. The red state behaved like a red state.
But the state House could flip much sooner. Republicans now hold just 93 seats, down from the historic high of 105 just a few years ago. That’s still big enough for a majority in a 150-member chamber, but it’s an eroding majority if 2018 suggests a new trend.
Texas Republicans have been here before. After the 2008 election, Texas Republicans had a razor-thin 76-74 majority in the state house.
Just two years later, things changed a lot. Republicans won a whopping 105 seats, the largest state house majority in Texas history. So how did they turn it around in two years?
Texas Republicans took a few actions, and benefited from a couple others, resulting in that historic win. The good news is, they can replicate their own actions and expect some success. The third was beyond their control.
The first thing Texas Republicans did was renew their focus on the state house races. Activists set up a banner group, the Texas Republican House Committee, to bring attention to the 76-74 split. The TRHC held “Hands Off Texas” rallies to raise the flag for the fight ahead. It also set about the difficult task of recruiting better candidates, several of them Hispanic, and leaving as few seats as possible unchallenged, even in traditionally Democrat strongholds. This forced the Democrats to play more defense than they wanted.
At the same time, the state GOP also stepped up its Hispanic and Spanish-language outreach. The party produced a video, “Yo Soy Tejano Republicano,” to highlight the values shared between Latinos and non-Latino conservatives. The party built a group of Spanish speakers to represent it in Spanish media such as Telemundo and Univision. The party united against Democrats and avoided internecine bickering. The current state party could learn much from all that.
orcThese decisions presented a friendlier and more welcoming face to the state’s socially conservative Hispanic voters, and kept the Republican base united and fired up. The external actions that helped the state Republicans recapture their mojo were the President Obama’s election and the partisan passage of Obamacare. These wiped Democrats out in the state’s rural areas. They have never recovered, and the rural vote saved Sen. Ted Cruz from “Betomania” in 2018. The rural vote kept every other statewide Republican in office too, as Democrats won Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, swept the border counties, and made gains in Tarrant, Collin and Williamson counties.
The Dallas Morning News may be right that Texas will be in play in 2020 thanks to Hispanic voters. But it’s not inevitable. Hispanics in Texas tend to be socially conservative Catholics. Many have been in the state for generations, and share the same values as Anglo voters. In the years leading up to the shark tooth-thin house margin in 2008, then-Gov. Rick Perry systematically demolished the state Democrats by recruiting them to switch sides. Many did, at the county level on up to the state house.
Gov. Abbott has not yet engaged in such an effort, mainly because Perry poached all the Democrats who could be poached. The newly-elected Democrats are far to the old-school Texas Democrats’ left. They won’t be party switchers, so the Republicans will have to find ways to defeat them.
It’s time to build a bigger, friendlier, boat.
A.J. Rice is the CEO of Publius PR. He has produced or promoted Laura Ingraham, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Monica Crowley, Steve Hilton, Anthony Scaramucci, George P. Bush, Pastor Paula White, Coach Howard Schnellenberger and many others.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.