The past two weeks have seen a news torrent of details about how hard Donald Trump and his supporters worked to try to undo the democratic results of the last presidential election, as well as details of how hard they are working to make sure they are successful in the next one.
If you need a sampling, look here or here or here or here. You’ll find well-documented articles about the proposals by members of Congress and others to preemptively invalidate millions of votes in battleground states in order to take a clear victory away from Joe Biden and give it to Donald Trump in 2020. You’ll also find details of efforts to put in place people and mechanisms to accomplish such gambits, if necessary, in 2024.
Given that efforts are already underway to take the 2024 election out of the hands of voters, I thought it was worth looking at what role Texas could play in the unlikely but possible event that Donald Trump should run and fail to carry the nation’s second largest state.
I’ve long said that I will believe Texas is going to go purple the day after the state elects a Democratic governor, senator or presidential candidate. But it is not a crazy notion. In 2020, despite the fact that Republicans carried every statewide race with margins ranging from 8.5% to 11.5%, Trump beat Biden by only 5.6%. It was the lowest Republican margin of victory since 1992, when Ross Perot’s 22% of the vote shrank George H. Bush’s margin over Bill Clinton to 3.5%.
The tally showed a large number of Republican-leaning voters rejecting Trump. And while President Joe Biden’s polls are in the tank, President Ronald Reagan’s polls in his first term dipped as low as 35%, yet he trounced Walter Mondale to win reelection in 1984.
So let’s entertain the possibility that Trump could lose Texas in a close election in 2024. How would the state’s Republicans respond?
One thing is clear: The Republican base would likely believe, without the need for actual evidence, that Democrats stole the election. Polls show a strong majority of Republicans today believe, against all evidence, that Trump actually won reelection last year. This is a belief that is impervious to studies, audits or the fact that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spent $22 million searching for fraud in the past year, closing three cases and opening just seven new ones. That’s despite the fact that more than 11 million votes were cast in the presidential election alone.
At the local level, it is likely that elections officials will do their best to run a clean election, just as they did last year. But at higher levels, there is cause for concern. Let’s take them one by one, starting at the top.
Gov. Greg Abbott won Trump’s endorsement back in June. He later refused to put on the agenda of a special legislative session an audit of last year’s election in Texas that Trump had sought. But after that, Abbott did sign a bill calling for future election audits, and engineered a grab of $4 million from the state’s criminal justice budget to conduct a “forensic audit” of four large counties, including the Democratic strongholds of Houston and Dallas. The audit was announced days after Trump released a letter to Abbott calling for an audit bill.
Then there is the matter of the Texas secretary of state, who is appointed by Abbott and who is the top official in overseeing elections. Leaders of the Texas Senate failed to schedule a confirmation vote for Secretary of State Ruth Hughs after she called the 2020 election a “resounding success” and a top aide testified that the election was “smooth and secure.”
It appears those comments now fit the old Washington definition of a “gaffe,” as when a politician injudiciously blurts the truth.
To replace Hughs, Abbott appointed John Scott, a prominent Fort Worth lawyer who had been a top aide of Abbott when he was attorney general. The appointment erupted in controversy because Scott had earlier signed on to a case challenging Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania. His team wanted to toss absentee ballots with inadvertent errors that voters had been permitted to correct. Scott resigned from the case a few days after an appeals court ruled his clients didn’t have standing to sue.
If Trump were to lose Texas, could he be expected to do here what he did in Georgia: Get the governor and the secretary of state on the phone and threaten them if they didn’t “find” the necessary votes to change the results?
When Trump said “jump” with his audit letter, Abbott didn’t say, “How high?” But he didn’t keep his feet on the ground either, ordering the $4 million “forensic” audit of an election where no evidence of significant fraud had been produced. So the answer is not clear. Abbott has shown himself eager to play to the Republican base, which needs no evidence to conclude there is fraud.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has twice served as the Texas chairman of the Trump campaign. He was so eager to find election fraud after the 2020 election that he offered bounties totaling up to $1 million from his campaign fund to citizens offering proof of fraud. To his embarrassment, the only award, for $25,000 a year after he publicized the bounty, went to a Pennsylvania poll worker who pointed the finger at a 72-year-old man who voted once and came back later in a baseball cap and dark glasses and tried to vote a second time as his own son. The man was a registered Republican.
Patrick pushed and passed legislation turning some misdemeanor voting violations into felonies. He backed Trump’s call for an election audit in Texas. He also called for Abbott to obey Trump on the election audit.
“Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Elections,” he said, while referring to the “Presidential election scam.”
Would Patrick attempt to change election rules if Trump lost an election in Texas? Consider this: Long-standing Texas Senate rules required a two-thirds vote for any measure to go to the floor for a vote. Patrick engineered the lowering of the margin twice in order to eradicate Democratic power, and made it clear he would get rid of the rule completely if needed.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has left no doubt that he would do whatever it took to overturn an unfavorable election on Trump’s behalf. He’s already tried it. When Trump backers couldn’t persuade the Louisiana attorney general to file an absurd lawsuit seeking to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes in four states Trump lost, Paxton filed on behalf of the state of Texas. Even Trump’s three appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court effectively scoffed at the notion.
Perhaps Paxton hoped his efforts would win a pardon from Trump concerning an FBI investigation of bribery accusations made by his top staff. But all it has won him is Trump’s endorsement in his hotly contested reelection campaign.
If Paxton loses reelection in November, it would not automatically mean an improvement. One of his primary opponents is U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who sued Vice President Mike Pence in an effort to make him refuse to certify the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden. When a federal court tossed his suit, he responded, “Basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and Black Lives Matter.”
Gohmert, who has promoted such outlandish theories as that the U.S. military seized computer servers in Germany used to flip votes in the presidential election, joined five other ultra-conservative House members in a campaign to keep Biden’s victory from being certified.
Lastly, take Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan. In the wake of the presidential election, he chose Briscoe Cain to chair the House Committee on Elections. Cain, a lawyer from Deer Park, is considered one of the least effective legislators by many of his colleagues. Cain had distinguished himself by hopping on the plane immediately after the election to parachute into Philadelphia in an attempt to undo the Pennsylvania election results there.
On the afternoon he arrived, Cain tweeted: “Philly is crazy. I see dead people voting Look no further than PA’s own records …”
As it turned out, no dead voters were discovered in Philadelphia, but a 70-year-old Pennsylvania man did admit to registering two dead women and submitting absentee ballots in their names marked for Trump.
One last worrisome fact: Sen. Ted Cruz and more than half of the 25 Texas Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against certifying Biden’s election, in effect seeking a bloodless coup.
It has been historically a major hallmark of American democracy that politicians who have lost elections — even close and controversial ones such as in the case of Richard Nixon in 1960 and Al Gore in 2000 — accepted defeat.
Trump shattered that tradition last year but was thwarted. If he should repeat that performance in 2024 and lose Texas, it is not at all clear that the the results would be the same.