The largest red state of them all is effectively sitting on the sidelines as Republicans begin their national convention in Cleveland.
Texas holds 38 electoral votes. This presidential election cycle started with four Republican candidates with strong ties to the state. Former Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were all reared in the state and at least partly schooled here. They’ve got fundraising networks in Texas, and Perry and Cruz have won statewide elections here.
You might think, even with those guys out of the race, that the winner or the Republican Party would be seeking their counsel or their influence. It’s true that Perry has been pulling for Donald Trump ever since Cruz left the race. And Cruz, who hasn’t hitched his wagon to the nominee, will have a speaking part in Cleveland.
If there’s a courtship going on here, it’s an odd one. Just look at where the Texas delegation is seated — in the back and off to the side.
Why would the Republicans court their biggest electoral prize anyhow? The state is basically in the bag. Texas hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since 1976, and only the Watergate scandal and the backlash against a Republican president broke a red streak that actually began in 1968 – the year Lyndon Johnson didn’t seek re-election.
Six of the seven presidential ballots after that 1976 race had a Texan named Bush in either the first or second spot. The Republicans won with them on the ballot, and with them off of it.
When it came time to pick a running mate, Trump ignored the state. No need to court Texas voters; everyone assumes they’ll vote for the GOP candidate, no matter who it is. Cruz or Perry might have helped sew up some factions where Trump is weak, but he decided on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for that.
Texas is an essential piece of a Republican win. On the other hand are some wistful Democrats who imagine what a lock they would have on national politics if Texas could be flipped to their side.
It would be expensive to win, however, even though it has proved to be cheap to hold. National Republican campaigns don’t have to advertise here, which is great for them since Texas is big and expensive. And Democrats can’t afford to advertise here; their money is better spent in swing states where their chances are better.
If there’s a courtship going on here, it’s an odd one.
That leaves Texas off to the side, a political wallflower at the presidential dance. Only three Texans have been named as speakers at the convention: Cruz, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) and former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell.
Cruz could easily make a splash in Ohio. He was the last candidate with a big following to leave the race for the Republican nomination and one of the most prominent conservatives withholding a Trump endorsement.
But this doesn’t feel like a convention with a lot of Texas seasoning, like past conventions where Bushes and people from their political circles were sitting at the head table.
If political conventions featured financial players like they feature orators, that might be flipped. Texans are hugely important on the financial side of these races even if the voters aren’t being fed and watered. Those quieter Texans are, as usual, all over the race; early reports are that Trump raised $7.8 million on a Texas finance swing last month, for instance.
Texas could have a more visible presence later in the month, when the Democrats meet in Philadelphia: We’ll know when they announce their speaker lineup. It’s a cheap way – no advertising costs! – to make a play for Texas voters, just in case something politically seismic is coming in November.
Maybe, maybe not. The state itself seems to have landed in the same position as its candidates: Also ran.
We probably shouldn’t feel bad. California isn’t getting much love, either. It’s the single biggest pot of electoral votes. While it hasn’t been as consistent in its politics as Texas, the Golden State is solidly in the blue column.
It’s easy to take the big states for granted this year: Consistency has made them unworthy of much attention.
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: Ted Cruz thanks Texas Republicans for supporting his presidential bid in a Dallas speech on May 14, 2016. Photo by Bob Daemmrich, courtesy of The Texas Tribune.
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