A year ago, Texas Republicans were on edge.
Battleground Texas, a group of former Obama campaign operatives, had just burst onto the scene, promising to use their national turnout model to turn the state blue.
Meanwhile, Texas Democrats were still eagerly pushing the narrative that a coming demographic wave — in the form of hundreds of thousands of new Hispanic voters — would soon sweep Republicans from state office.
Both storylines are the subject of endless political debate. They’re also both — at least for the foreseeable future — pure fantasy.
But there is a real threat to Republican rule in Texas. And it comes not from out-of-state liberal groups or sought-after demographic constituencies, but from within. The threat is systemic and pervasive.
It’s voter apathy.
Texas Republicans once again sailed to victory in November. Despite the efforts of Battleground Texas and other Democratic groups around the country, state Sen. Wendy Davis, Texas Democrats’ highest-profile gubernatorial candidate in years, not only lost big but also received about 270,000 fewer votes than Bill White, the party’s nominee four years earlier.
Meanwhile, in a major blow to Democrats, the two Republicans at the top of the ticket in November — Greg Abbott, now the governor-elect, and Dan Patrick, now the lieutenant governor-elect — both won a majority of Hispanic men, according to exit polls.
So if Republicans continue to dominate statewide elections in Texas, why the worry?
Texas Republicans should be asking themselves this: How can a political party seeking to govern an increasingly diverse state be competitive in the long run when only one in 10 of its members show up to vote in its primaries?
An examination of primary turnout in Texas since 2000 shows the dire state of voter participation in the state’s dominant political party.
So why is this important? A party’s ability to scrutinize, recalibrate and reprioritize its agenda ensures that it remains responsive to the political, economic and social needs of the voting public. Direct feedback from all citizens is essential in a state as big and diverse as Texas.
Voters across Texas — Republicans, moderates and conservative Democrats alike — have become disillusioned with the hard right turn of the party and wary of its long-term viability.
The Tea Party contingent in the Legislature, seemingly more concerned with ideological purity than solving Texas’ problems, bears some of the responsibility for alienating these voters. But the GOP establishment’s refusal to offer real policy solutions on a host of issues — from transportation to water to higher education to free-market health care solutions for the nearly 25 percent of Texans who are uninsured — has left voters questioning the party’s ability to lead.
I’m proud to call myself a Republican. I believe in empowering people to solve problems instead of empowering government. But I also want my party to be better. I want it to reach and help more people improve their everyday lives. I want the Texas Republican Party to get more voters to the polls by offering bold solutions — not just for “conservative” issues, but for issues facing every Texas family.
Voter apathy is the greatest threat to the long-term viability of the Texas Republican Party. But with hard work and big ideas, it certainly doesn’t have to be.