The Democrats’ fondest wish for years has been to turn the deeply Republican state of Texas blue. At first, demographics seemed to make the change possible, as Latinos and younger people made up an increasing part of the population.
Then came a string of popular Democratic candidates running against unpopular Republicans. The prime example was Beto O’Rourke, who took on Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, and lost.
Nature may be able to do what demographics alone cannot, though. The effects of the crippling winter weather in Texas this past week may finally convince voters that the Republicans are failures. With millions without power and water and dozens of Texans dead, the state GOP could be facing a long-coming reckoning.
The Texas power grid is a weird hodge podge, unlike any other in the country. Texas Republicans deregulated energy within an inch of its life beginning in the 1990s, preferring instead a market-driven approach.
The upside was that prices were kept artificially low as a result of competition. The downside of this approach was that the prices were kept low by deferring maintenance and upgrades.
When Texas was hit with bad storms during Hurricane Ike, which stressed the power grid a decade ago, the GOP-run state did nothing to prepare for the next round.
Moreover, state officials studiously avoided preparing for the storms that just hit, despite forecasts predicting record low temperatures. One reason is simple: five of the GOP-appointed members of the state’s energy board don’t even live in the state.
Then there are the GOP officials who do live there, except when it’s inconvenient. We’re looking at you, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and your escape to the Cancun Ritz Carlton.
Add to all of this the scandals, dysfunction and extremism that have become a hallmark of the state GOP for decades. The state attorney general, Ken Paxton, has been accused by his own aides of accepting a bribe. (He has been under felony indictment for fraud for five years now.)
Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who would qualify as a far-right star elsewhere, is under attack from the state party for not being sufficiently Trump-like with his pandemic response. At the same time, party officials have pushed a string of racist sentiments in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
Meanwhile, instead of actually governing, state Republicans have been engaging in the performative acts of the grievance culture. High on that list is the continued assault on LGBTQ rights.
In fact, the failure of government is a feature of the GOP philosophy, not a bug. It dates back to the Ronald Reagan era. Reagan famously joked, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
In its most extreme form, that sentiment could be found coming from almost every kind of Republican. Take Tim Boyd, mayor of the small Texas town of Colorado City, for example. In the midst of the unfolding disaster last week, Boyd wrote, “No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!”
(He subsequently quit.)
But doing its utmost to ruin government has been a nationwide GOP priority, from gutting the IRS to allowing infrastructure to crumble. All Republicans stand for now is owning the libs and confirming radical nominees to the federal bench.
When an actual crisis comes along, like a natural disaster or a pandemic, the Republican response is to have no response. It’s clear that the party has long believed that government shouldn’t be actively involved in a response to a disaster.
Even, in the case of Texas Republicans, one exasperated by their own doing.
Even in the face of massive support — including from a majority of Republicans — for President Biden’s pandemic relief package, Congressional Republicans are balking. A year into the pandemic, they’re still resistant to giving state governments money, which is part of the package. They would rather have the states slash services to balance their budgets.
Will the failure of government force Texas voters to give Democrats a chance at long last? Perhaps. Certainly, the combination of incompetence and arrogance (thanks, Ted) provide plenty of fodder for the next campaign season.
Added to the mix is the influx of new residents to places like Austin, who are moving from liberal strongholds like California because they want to escape the city or their jobs are relocating there.
It may not be enough to overthrow the Republican grip on the state, but it could make Texas a lot more purple than red. After this week, that would be a move in the right direction.