It was the sign for Republicans that the atomic clock of conservatism was at a half-minute to midnight: If Texas wasn’t turning blue, it was at least going purple.
That meant 38 electoral votes would go up in a puff of blue smoke — and with them, any chance of winning a presidential contest under the current party system.
And Donald Trump was largely to blame.
All of the evidence was there: Except, um, for the recent polling, which shows Trump beating every potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. But let’s talk about that other stuff first, shall we?
Because otherwise the media wouldn’t have a story.
Sure, the emphasis was on “-ish” rather than “close.” And sure, he incinerated a record amount of campaign funds to get within 3 percentage points of Cruz in a bad year for Republicans.
And all right, this all had something to do with the fact O’Rourke was treated like a rock star by the media — as in, say, that interview where a super-objective ABC News reporter literally gushed to him, “You’re a rock star!” at a campaign event — though that status evaporated like the sweat on his identical blue shirts didn’t when he entered the 2020 presidential race.
Still, there you had it, the media said: Evidence demographics from immigration and intranational migration was turning the state blue — and Texas has another senatorial election in 2020, nudge nudge, wink wink.
There were also the rest of Texas’ 2018 congressional elections.
The Lone Star State lost two GOP seats to Democrats, both in the suburbs. This mirrored a national trend, except writ small: Unlike other states where entire delegations in suburbia were practically wiped out, as in California, by motivated Democrats and Republicans de-motivated by concerns over Trump’s rhetoric and public persona, the impact in Texas was minor and wholly expected in a midterm year where the Republicans controlled the White House.
But the mere talk that the Democrats were targeting six more seats in 2020 amid a number of prominent GOP retirements inspired a name for the non-phenomenon phenomenon that wasn’t occurring: Texodus.
You could even put that in all-caps and throw it on a shirt if you wanted to: TEXODUS!
While the term technically referred to the fact that these were GOP members choosing to retire in curious numbers ahead of an election cycle, even an idiot could tell what the second, future-tense meaning of the neologistic verb meant. Even in an autumn news season where major stories have been dropping like oak leaves, the media’s been running with this bad boy as both tenses have already come to pass.
The Christian Science Monitor: “‘Texodus’: Why the Lone Star State might turn blue for real this time.”
George Will: “‘Texodus’ bodes badly for Republicans.”
Mark P. Jones, opinion writer for The Hill: “What’s causing the congressional ‘Texodus’?”
But all right, maybe that’s enough to move the atomic clock of conservatism to a minute-and-a-half to midnight at most. Then came the the real kicker: Trump was actually visiting Texas for a rally!
Stop the presses and get into your political bunkers, GOPsters. The fourth horseman of the Texan apocalypse had arrived, riding a pale Air Force One. Turn those clocks to a half-minute to midnight and prepare for doom.
“In the political heart of Texas, a state Republicans have dominated for decades, Democrats say they are gaining ground — and one of the reasons rode into Dallas-Fort Worth on Thursday,” USA Today reported last month. “His name: Donald Trump.”
“While Trump’s policies on immigration, trade and the economy remain popular in Republican-leaning Texas, Democrats say the president’s actions are helping them build a base of their own among Hispanics, city dwellers and college-education professionals in the Lone Star State.”
“Make no mistake about it,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said before the rally, The Texas Tribune reported. “Donald Trump would not be doing one of these campaign rallies, on this scale, in Dallas, in Texas, if he was not scared or he did not know that the biggest battleground in the United States this year is Texas.”
“Trump carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin for a Republican presidential nominee here in two decades. His approval rating typically comes in only several points above water here, and recent polling has shown him trailing a number of potential Democratic nominees in the state,” The Tribune reported.
More recent polling seems to indicate that last part isn’t, as Ron Ziegler might have phrased it, “the operative statement.”
In a new survey from the University of Texas at Tyler released on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s Democratic debate (yeah, another one), the president was polling ahead of every Democratic presidential candidate in spite of the fact that almost every piece of news about him has to do with impeachment.
“One year out from the 2020 election, President Trump is leading all Democrats in head to head contests,” the poll reported. “He beats Joe Biden (+5), Bernie Sanders (+4), and Elizabeth Warren (+11). Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Julian Castro also trail Trump by double-digits.”
Bad enough for Democrats, but certainly not the kind of thing you’d find them despondent over. The next sentence may change that somewhat: “Interestingly, Trump’s surging support in head to heads since September appears to be coming from previously undecided respondents.”
In other words, voters who declared to pollsters that they were undecided in a race where there’s a social stigma against declaring your support for one particular candidate have started declaring their support for that candidate.
It’s almost as if all of this media coverage about presidential visits, TEXODUS! and Beto O’Rourke was being penned by individuals who chose to ignore the fact the Bradley effect existed at all or thought it referred to the effect Bradley Cooper appearing in a movie might have on its opening weekend box office totals.
Here’s something else that might not surprise you from the survey: “In the first post-Beto Texas statewide survey of the Democratic field, former Vice President Joe Biden holds a commanding lead with 28 percent support. His closest rivals are Senators Bernie Sanders (19%) and Elizabeth Warren (18%). 11 percent of Texas Democrats remain undecided. This survey gives an early look at the Democratic primary in Texas after 20 percent of the voters were without their leading candidate at the start of the month.”
This presents another curious problem. The only two candidates in single-digit striking range of Trump are Biden and Sanders, both of whom are among Texas Democrats’ top choices. The other top contender for the nomination, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is down by 11 points.
Biden’s polling fortunes nationally seem to have stabilized, which is the good news for his campaign.
The bad news is that they’ve stabilized at the level they sank to during his apocalyptic late-summer gaffetomic winter, where he said stuff like “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” and suggested parents turn on the record player for those poor kids to reduce racial inequality, while they were at it — which is to say things aren’t stellar over at camp Biden. (Oh, and his fundraising game is about as credible as his hair plugs, which presents long-term viability issues in the lengthiest campaign season ever, where not just managing money but hoarding lots of it to manage will be crucial.)
As for Sanders, as much as I retain some avuncular fondness for America’s favorite Clarence Darrow impersonator if for humor value alone, the only way he’d have less chance of winning the nomination is if the full resources of the Democratic National Committee were arrayed against him. (You know, like last time.)
Also, even though a socialist seems to do surprisingly well in pre-primary polling in Texas (this has to have something to do with Austin, doesn’t it?), he’s not going to be a hot commodity once people become acquainted with what socialism actually entails, particularly in a state where much of the population influx has had to do with people escaping high-tax states.
It’s somewhat trickier to escape a high-tax country.
And again, all of this is taking place with the Texas-sized thunderclouds of impeachment not far in the distance. Those Democrats who were leading Trump should be building leads. Those who weren’t should be taking leads or getting closer. The opposite is happening.
So no, Texas isn’t turning blue presidentially.
And if it’s staying red in that category, down-ballot races tend to follow the coattail effect, no matter how much Texodusing might happen.
There’s also no evidence the “suburb effect” — where outraged Democrats in suburban districts that normally go red were ultra-motivated to vote by Trump — will happen again in a presidential year, when Trump’s appearance on the ballot will motivate the other part of the electorate to come out and vote.
But then, the “When will Texas become a purple/blue state?” story has become to politics journalism what the “Will The Smiths finally reunite?” story is to music journalism: It gets carted out every few months no matter how soon it is to happening now.
If you’re not in on that reference, ask yourself this: Have you heard of the Smiths reuniting? No. Will you hear about the Smiths reuniting? I mean, sure, anything’s possible. But — take it from me — probably not that possible.
You do the math.
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