A wall too high for the GOP?

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

— Po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions are echo cham­bers de­signed to gen­er­ate feel­ings of in­vin­ci­bil­ity, send­ing forth the party faith­ful with a spring in their steps and hope in their hearts. Who would want to be a wet blan­ket at such move­able feasts?

Steve Mu­nis­teri would. Al­though he calls him­self “the eter­nal op­ti­mist,” he re­spects re­al­ity, which nowa­days is not con­ducive to con­ser­va­tives’ cheer­ful­ness. He served as chair­man of the Texas Repub­li­can Party from 2010 to 2015 be­cause he dis­cerned “a seis­mic shift in de­mo­graph­ics” that meant his state could “turn Demo­cratic sooner than most peo­ple thought.”

The fact that Repub­li­cans have won ev­ery Texas statewide of­fice since 1994 — the long­est such streak in the na­tion — gives them, he says, “a false sense of se­cu­rity.” In 2000, Repub­li­can can­di­dates at the top of the ticket — in statewide races — av­er­aged about 60 per­cent of the vote. By 2008, they av­er­aged less than 53 per­cent. And Repub­li­can down- bal­lot win­ners av­er­aged slightly over 51 per­cent.

Texas is not wide open spa­ces filled with cat­tle and cot­ton fields. Ac­tu­ally, it is 84.7 per­cent ur­ban, mak­ing it the 15th most ur­ban state. It has four of the na­tion’s 11 largest cities — Hous­ton, San An­to­nio, Dal­las and Austin. Texas’ growth is in its cities, where Repub­li­cans are do­ing worst.

Dal­las has gone from solidly Repub­li­can to solidly Demo­cratic. A re­cent poll showed Har­ris County ( Hous­ton), which is 69 per­cent mi­nor­ity, with a ma­jor­ity iden­ti­fy­ing as Democrats. The San An­to­nio met­ro­pol­i­tan area is about three- quar­ters mi­nor­ity. Travis County ( Austin, seat of the state gov­ern­ment, the flag­ship state univer­sity and a bur­geon­ing tech econ­omy at­tract­ing young peo­ple) voted 60.1 per­cent for Barack Obama in 2012.

Asian- Amer­i­cans, Texas’ fastest­grow­ing mi­nor­ity by per­cent­age, were 3 per­cent of Tex­ans in 2000 and 4.3 per­cent in 2010. They are pro­jected to be more than 8 per­cent in 2040.

In the 2014 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion, His­pan­ics were 25 per­cent of Texas’ regis­tered vot­ers but only 19 per­cent of turnout. Two years later, His­pan­ics are 29 per­cent of regis­tered vot­ers. Now, sup­pose the per­son at the top of a Repub­li­can na­tional ticket gives His­pan­ics the mo­ti­va­tion to be, say, 25 per­cent of turnout. Al­though it is, Mu­nis­teri says, “the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble” for Texas Repub­li­cans to win by in­creas­ing the white vote, this “po­lit­i­cal seg-


re­ga­tion” is, aside from be­ing morally re­pul­sive, po­lit­i­cally “a sure- fire long- term los­ing propo­si­tion.”

The “blue wall” — the 18 states and the District of Columbia that have voted Demo­cratic in at least six con­sec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial elec­tions — to­day has 242 elec­toral votes. Texas, which is not a brick in this wall, has 38 elec­toral votes. After the 2020 cen­sus, it prob­a­bly will have 40, per­haps 41. Were Texas to be­come another blue brick, the wall — even if the 2020 cen­sus sub­tracts a few elec­toral votes from the cur­rent 18 states — would have more than the 270 votes needed to elect a pres­i­dent.

Since 1994, when it passed New York (which has now sunk below Florida to fourth place), Texas has been the na­tion’s sec­ond most pop­u­lous state. Mu­nis­teri notes that it is the Repub­li­can Party’s only large “an­chor state.” The Demo­cratic Party has two — Cal­i­for­nia and New York, with a com­bined 84 elec­toral votes. Or three, if you count Illi­nois ( 20 elec­toral votes), which in the last four pres­i­den­tial elec­tions has voted Demo­cratic by an av­er­age of slightly more than 16 points.

Mu­nis­teri’s con­ser­va­tive cre­den­tials are unas­sail­able. He was a pre­co­ciously con­ser­va­tive teenager — a mem­ber of Young Amer­i­cans for Free­dom in high school in 1976 — when Ron­ald Rea­gan was try­ing to wrest the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion from Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford. Mu­nis­teri, now work­ing with the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, be­came a Rea­gan vol­un­teer and had an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: Rea­gan, hav­ing lost eight of the first nine pri­maries, re­vived his can­di­dacy by win­ning all of Texas’ 100 con­ven­tion del­e­gates.

Mu­nis­teri’s po­lit­i­cally for­ma­tive years were the con­ser­va­tive move­ment’s salad days — the late 1970s, and 1980s, when many con­ser­va­tives ac­quired a serene cer­tainty that this is and al­ways will be a cen­ter- right coun­try. Mu­nis­teri, how­ever, is “a num­bers guy,” so seren­ity is il­lu­sive.

He notes that be­gin­ning with Franklin Roo­sevelt’s first vic­tory in 1932, Democrats won seven of nine pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, and if they had suc­ceeded in their ef­fort to en­list Dwight Eisen­hower as a Demo­crat they prob­a­bly would have won nine in a row. Trends can be re­versed but un­til they are, Repub­li­cans risk pro­tracted los­ing in a cen­ter- left coun­try, which Amer­ica now is, and in a pur­ple Texas, which soon could be.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Contact him at georgewill@ wash­post. com.

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