He’s been pummeled from all fronts lately; from daily newspapers and the blogs, to the political satire shows such as Colbert Report; because of the dust-up regarding secession.
He’s been pummeled from all fronts, that is, except for the only front that matters to him. In the process, he’s in a better position than ever to win his race for the Republican nomination for Governor. In the process, he also stands to further erode the Republican brand in Texas, puts in danger his own election in November, and makes more tenuous the political positions of down-ballot legislative Republicans across Texas.
I’ve spent the last few months as a voice of dissent, explaining to those who asked why I think Kay Hutchison could, indeed, beat Perry in the Republican primary. On paper it makes perfect sense. The economy sucks. As a result, people feel threats which are very personal to their families.
With that background, it is easy to imagine that the hotbutton issues which usually drive conservative voters when times are good – abortion, prayer in schools, taxes, immigration, that sort of thing – would take a back seat to pocketbook issues. like the jobs these voters are losing, the health care their families lost along with the job, the resulting cash crush which prevents them from paying the notes on the houses they live in, and the cars they drive.
The traditional Republican hotbutton issues are to Perry’s benefit. The pocketbook issues may not be. And with the economy in a shambles, I believed for a while that the timing was right for Hutchison to find a solid base, even among ultra-conservative Republican primary voters in Texas.
Perry’s secession comments completely changed the game.
Perry’s comment (in reality, little more than a failure to refute) tapped into a deep-seated frustration among libertarian and ultra-conservative activists, and has put him solidly back into the game. But at what cost?
Let’s back up. The last time a Democrat won state-wide was in 1994. Through long years littered with losing Democrats, Republican pollsters have advised their clients on how to win their next election: by teaching them that general elections don’t matter. They’ve told their candidates that if they want to be successful as a Republican, they must win their Republican primary, period. Which means that the only voters one must be popular with – are Republican primary voters.
And for 15 years, fair enough – and true enough. Statewide Republicans following those instructions have all taken office.
What those instructions haven’t accounted for, however, is how to grow a political party. In fact, over time it shrinks it.
Those at the top of the majority party’s ticket always have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. They have a responsibility to themselves to win their own election, but they also have a responsibility to their party to ensure that the brand remains strong, so that their supporters – and not their opposition – win elections down-ballot. It’s the only way to further their policy agenda. It’s also the only way to avoid the personal blame if and when the majority party suddenly isn’t in the majority anymore.
There are Republican members of the Texas Legislature who won their last election by less than 4 percentage points in the last election. They’re running in the same real estate which elected Republicans by 14 percentage points a decade ago, and they’ve watched as their electoral advantage has eroded further in every subsequent election.
If I were one of those Republicans, I would be very upset with Governor Perry right now. Perry, in his zeal to attract those ultra-conservative voters, is alienating virtually all of the voters those legislators need. Perry’s pollster would call those voters “extraneous.” Down-ballot candidates call them “the winning margin.”
For those Republican candidates, consultants, and activists who would dismiss this, thinking that somebody like me doesn’t understand Republican Party politics: how the hell do you think we Democrats found ourselves in the minority in the first place? Did you think it was because you’re brilliant?
And for those voters who have been casting votes for Republicans for a decade or more, who increasingly believe the Republican Party is out of touch: they’re not out of touch at all – they’re just not in touch with you. They’ve been too busy sucking up to protesters.