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- The deadline to register to vote in Texas' March 1 primaries is today.
Well, almost over. Even if Donald “grab them by pussy” Trump loses (which, even after Email Gate Redux, is still the overwhelming prediction), people will study his profoundly troubling impact on American politics for months and years to some. And perhaps no where else might the so-called “Trump Effect” be more visible than in Texas.
Here are a few storylines we’ll be watching as the returns come in tonight.
The Purpling of Texas
Remember Battleground Texas? Following President Barack Obama’s re-election, some of the wiz kids behind his presidential campaigns parachuted into the Lone Star State, threw around a bunch of money, and promised to push Texas into swing state territory during the 2014 election. Only that didn’t happen. Texans replaced top statewide officer holders – governor, lite guv and attorney general – with an even more conservative slate and at margins that weren’t even close. On election night, when the state GOP chairman humbly declared that his party had “annihilated” Battleground Texas, he wasn't wrong.
So go figure that anointing a presidential nominee who calls Mexicans “rapists,” wants to block Muslims from entering the country, and who brags about sexually assaulting women can really change the political landscape in just two short years. In September, the Washington Post dropped some shocker poll results saying Trump and Hillary Clinton were basically in a dead heat in Texas. Many declared that Trump had nudged Texas – which has been deep red for two decades – into the tossup category.
Most political analysts doubt that Clinton could actually win Texas this time around, but her margin of loss could be revealing. Mark Jones, a political scientist with Rice University, says that if Trump wins by 5 points or less in Texas, that would be a “major moral victory” for state Democrats who would benefit from the momentum. If Trump’s margin of victory hovers into the double digits, that could just be one more bad omen for state Dems.
"The Trump Effect"
Texas Democrats have tried hard to make Trump the albatross around the neck of Republican candidates running in down-ballot races across the state. Look no further than San Antonio to see whether or not those efforts are successful.
Perhaps the greatest test of the strength and size of the Trump Effect will be in the race between GOP Congressman Will Hurd and Pete Gallego, Texas’ only competitive congressional contest. While the Hurd/Gallego rematch has become the most expensive congressional race ever in Texas, flooding the district’s airwaves with negative campaign ads from both sides, most of the back-and-forth allegations have been underwhelming – the Hurd camp needs a crash course on obscure campaign ad rules; turns out Gallego apparently didn’t manage to do much as a rookie Democrat in the GOP-dominated “do-nothing Congress."
In fact, most of the oxygen in the closely-watched Hurd/Gallego rematch has been sucked up by the raging Trump dumpster fire, making the race at times seem like little more than a proxy war. In their only debate just days before Halloween, Gallego hammered Hurd for doing too little to oppose the rise of Trump within his own party. Indeed, Hurd seemed to play coy for most of the race, neither endorsing nor rejecting Trump – that is, until Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, which triggered a full-throated disavowal by Hurd.
Meanwhile, other down-ballot races in San Antonio could signal how damaging Trump’s run has been for the Republican brand in a mixed county like Bexar. In the last election, Republican state reps Rick Galindo and John Lujan wrested Democratic districts from their opponents. A repeat might be impossible with the Trump cloud hanging over everything. Similarly, it’s up in the air whether Republican Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, who wouldn’t say one way or the other whether she’d vote for Trump, can survive the blue wave.
Just look to Rick Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, to see the havoc and embarrassment Trump has wrought on the party that reluctantly embraced him.
At the start of the primary season, Perry emerged as one of the strongest anti-Trumpers in his party. He gave speeches lamenting the GOP’s rocky history of race relations rather than inflaming tensions. He called Trump “a cancer on conservatism,” and after Trump’s Mexicans-are-rapists comment, Perry emerged as one of the loudest, clearest voices in his party to denounce the GOP nominee as a “toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican party to perdition if pursued.”
Then Perry followed Trump right down that road to “perdition,” not only endorsing Mr. Orange but saying he’d even like the VP spot or at least a cabinet appointment, please. He started saying creepy things about Clinton (“Donald Trump will peel her skin off in a debate”) and even took to criticizing a Gold Star family that dared to question Trump’s whole Muslim-ban thing. Last week, Perry was in Florida stumping for Trump, and he framed his support for Trump around the U.S. Supreme Court: “This is pretty simple, folks. Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump. The Supreme Court. It’s the next 40 years. It’s the next 50 years … This is about having an individual on that court that’s going to break the balance of power one way or the other. I want it to be Donald Trump making that choice.”
Only time will tell what the Trump Effect does to politicians like Perry – and Sid Miller, and Ted Cruz, and Greg Abbott – after this election.