Who would you have bet would jump to Trump, and who would you bet would run away? Is opposition or attraction to this year’s presidential candidate the best predictor of political fortunes?
In other words, does Donald Trump matter in Texas politics?
Trump, who will apparently say almost anything, gets blasted for the things he says. Miller, who will say almost anything, finds there is a presidential candidate from his tribe. No shock there.
George P. Bush? It doesn’t take a junior psychiatrist badge to suppose that holiday dinners at the Bush home in Florida are pretty dang interesting.
In 2014, when he was a Republican nominee but not yet an officeholder, the younger Bush flashed his political independence. Asked by The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith whether he would support his pop — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — in a then-unannounced run for president, George P. ducked.
Now he says it’s time to suck it up and support the GOP nominee, even if it’s the dude who called Bush’s father a “low-energy” candidate.
Pass the turkey, please.
That’s not the only Texas political game inspired by the Republican nominee for president. There’s also Who’s Running Against Ted Cruz? The spark was Cruz’s defiant non-endorsement at the GOP’s national convention last month; instead of telling the Republicans to vote for their nominee — that being the guy who stomped the Texas senator and more than a dozen others in the GOP primaries — he told the delegates and a national television audience to vote their consciences.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans were excited enough when Cruz burned his jersey and ditched the team to start speculating about his re-election chances in 2018.
Hope springs eternal, apparently. Cruz has been at the front of the Texas GOP’s vanguard against the old guard, a populist conservative more focused on busting up the status quo than on legislative achievement.
Lots of people — Democrats, certainly, but also the kinds of Republicans whose dishes Cruz has been breaking — don’t like it. But Cruz has practiced in office pretty much what he preached as a candidate back in 2012. His biggest risk is that voters will change their minds.
No sign of that yet.
But the Democrats floated U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former state Sen. Wendy Davis — the party’s 2014 candidate for governor — as challengers. Davis isn’t giving this much thought. Castro, on the other hand, says he is considering the race.
His is not the only congressional name in the conversation.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans were excited enough when Ted Cruz burned his jersey and ditched the team to start speculating about his re-election chances in 2018.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is reportedly getting some prompting from GOP donors unhappy with Cruz. McCaul is powerful in Washington, D.C., where he chairs the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security.
According to Roll Call, he’s the second-richest member of Congress, with a net worth of $117.5 million — which means he’s wealthy enough to self-finance a race for Senate if he wants to.
It would be an expensive proposition.
Cruz has won statewide attention, and his exploits as a senator and presidential candidate have made him a recognized name in Texas. McCaul is one of 36 members of the Texas congressional delegation. Most Texans can’t name their own member of Congress. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm made the hop from the House to the Senate back in the 1980s, but he had made a national name for himself by the time he ran. McCaul hasn’t, and would have to establish his name while taking on a well-known incumbent.
Trump and everyone’s reaction to him might turn out to be unimportant in the next couple of election cycles. If the Republican wins the presidency, he’ll be a factor in the 2018 mid-term elections. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a memory. Cruz might have smoothed things over with cranky Republicans who didn’t like his vote-your-conscience speech. But he’s unlikely to be the weakest incumbent on that year’s Texas ballot.
Miller, the ag commissioner, is under investigation by the Texas Rangers after reports that he used state money for private trips, including one to Oklahoma for a “Jesus Shot” to ease back pain. Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to knock down indictments and federal civil charges of securities fraud.
Cruz might be the favorite foil of partisans and malcontents, but in the end, he might not be the favored target for ambitious challengers in Texas.
More columns from Ross Ramsey:
- A lot can happen when you’re distracted by presidential politics. The past week offered a few relatively local reminders of why politics matters.
- As we sprint to Election Day (and somewhat in the spirit of the summer Olympics), it seems like a good time to open the records and see what Texas voters have done in past presidential election years.
- A couple of rising stars in Texas — Ted Cruz and Julián Castro — have left their predictable political orbits for uncharted journeys. Although you’ll hear otherwise, it’s silly to say they’ll never get up. Time is on their side.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Top image: From left: Texas Agriculture Sid Miller, 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Photo by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.