The Republican primary in Texas has a reputation for being a bloody, polarizing affair. A primary is an election held before the general election by parties to determine who will be their nominee for the general election. The primary is where different factions inside of a party go to fight for party domination; often times when the dust settles, two to three different factions inside the same party have won primaries in different areas of the state. Think of the Republican presidential primary in 2016 and how different candidates won different areas of the state based on how well they reflected the views of the people living in those specific counties.
The movement conservative versus establishment Republican civil war is still in full swing for the soul of the party even after the election of Donald Trump. The movement conservative wing, the more conservative wing of the party, has successfully elected Ted Cruz, a conservative firebrand, Greg Abbott, who currently holds the record for suing the Obama administration, and Dan Patrick, the man who hired Rush Limbaugh. In addition to electing bold conservatives to these important positions inside the state government and deciding who Texas sends to Washington, they have also turned Texas into a single-party state at the state legislature level. The Republican Party currently hold a 20-11 majority in the state Senate and a 95-55 majority in the state House.
In spite of the large electoral majorities, the Republican party in Texas still has a long list of things that it wants to accomplish. With the party holding a large majority in both chambers, it is not Democrats who are causing the problems. The lack of legislation has been the result of the movement conservative wing of the Republican party of Texas and the establishment wing being unable to compromise on key pieces of legislation. This issue is due to the fact that parties are factions of factions and factions inside the same party hold very different views on important governing issues. The establishment and movement conservatives have very different stances on the life issue, property taxes, regulation and education.
On the movement conservative side stands Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Sen. Ted Cruz. All three are big names with big war chests who sound like they are willing to get their hands involved in the primary. In the movement conservative column also stands most of the state senate. This helps explain why the state senate was able to pass a significant amount of Abbott’s special session agenda.
On the other side stands the Republican establishment, at this time represented by Joe Straus. Straus is a representative from San Antonio who represents the Alamo Heights area. He is the Speaker of the House, but don’t let that title fool you about his popularity in the house.
He became speaker of the house in 2008 when there was an abnormally low number of Republicans due to the quakes of Obama’s landslide victory. In 2008, the Republicans only held a two-vote majority in the House, moderate Republicans used this to their political advantage and wrestled the gavel away from Tom Craddick, a conservative, and gave it to Straus with the assistance of all of the Democrats in the House. The way in which Straus became speaker has left a sour taste in the mouth of movement conservatives for the better part of a decade.
Straus was also the bane of the movement conservatives’ existence during the special session. He openly likened Abbott’s special session agenda to “horse manure.” He then proceeded, as he has historically done, to have the House move very slowly while attending to its business. This is in stark contrast to the Senate, which raced through the governor’s special agenda. To make relations worse between the movement conservatives and Straus, he also adjourned the House earlier than necessary in the special session, resulting in a number of bills failing to reach the governor’s desk. This keeps in line with his historical precedent of killing conservative legislation by not putting it on calendars and other parliamentary procedures to prevent the bills from making it to the floor where they would be voted through by conservative Republicans.
The tensions that have been described in the past paragraphs will come to a head on May 5 and 22, the dates for the runoff elections that will be held when candidates don’t break the 50 percent majority barrier. Both factions inside the Republican party will be fighting to try to become the dominant force inside the party so that they may direct legislative efforts as they see fit and attempt to mold Texas into their image. In my opinion, it is likely that Straus and Abbott will be the twin lightning rods that light up the Texas sky on those nights as different candidates attempt to run for or against one of these two men. It remains to be seen whether Abbott will be making primary endorsements. If he does make that decision the primary will be even bloodier.
As in every political season, expect the advertisements to only get nastier as both factions attempt to assert dominance over the other. While these two factions share a political party, they have very different interpretations of what conservatism is and what the Republican party is. This is a battle that will be fought across Texas, all the way from El Paso to Port Aransas.