It’s almost Halloween, and the GOP is haunting any chance to retake county wide seats next year. The culprit is the same mistake we make over and over; complaints about a candidate’s ideological purity. The 2016 Presidential election should have opened our eyes that ideologically pure candidates can’t win. Sure, the county has some pockets where that’s not the case. We are lucky to have representatives Swanson and Cain representing us in Austin. However, their districts are not representative of the county. Before addressing some specific examples of the current ideological purity complaints and how they will come back to do harm next year, let’s first take a look at the electorate in general.
Democracy Fund Voter Orientation Group has done some great work in voter orientation. Their work is national, not county wide, but the county makeup is similar. This gives us a good working premise from where to begin analyzing the upcoming election. A couple of points stand out insofar as why ideological purity requirements are detrimental to the overall health of the GOP. They plotted voter’s ideology social on one axis and fiscal on the other and marked which Presidential candidate the voter chose in 2016. Looking solely at the social orientation of the electorate it is 51.6% conservative and 48.4 liberal. Looking solely at the fiscal orientation of the electorate it is 26.5% conservative and 73.5% liberal. Ouch.
Voters aren’t monolithic blocks. Someone can be socially conservative and fiscally liberal or visa versa. When both the scales are looked at together it shows that 44.6% of the voters are both socially and fiscally liberal. This is going to be the traditional democrat voter. By comparison only 22.7% of the voters are both socially and fiscally conservative – the traditional Republican voter. The democrats only need to hold on to their own and pick up 5.5% more votes in order to achieve a majority. Realistically, the Republicans can’t hope to win over enough of the socially conservative fiscally liberal voters to achieve a majority. We have to be able to peel away some of the more moderate voters in the social and fiscally liberal quadrant in order to win.
The second point that stands out is from more recent data. When voters were asked what characteristics they wanted to see in President there was the expected party divide on most issues. However, one issue stood out as desired by both parties – seek[s] compromise so that things get done. The current combination of a electorate oriented towards the democrats and voters wanting to see compromise so that things get done ensure doom for the GOP with ideological purity testing demanded.
HD 148 Race
I’ve previously written about the need to stay gracious in victory and how Republicans are stronger when we adopt a big tent mentality. The electorate orientation only reinforces how important welcoming all who want to be with us is. Thankfully Speaker Bonnen is not going to be an issue going forward. However, insofar as county politics are concerned the Mayoral race and HD 148 race are both areas where the ideological purity bell sounds and harm to the Republican brand follows.
The HD 148 race is particularly damaging. The district is overwhelmingly democratic in orientation. It’s highly unlikely that anyone who even seems that they may be right of center will be elected. Two conservatives are running in the special election, Luis LaRotta and Chris Carmona. However, Chris decided to run as an independent. Chris has run for this seat before, and has run for Republican Party County Chair. It’s difficult to say with a straight face he doesn’t hold Republican values.
When I reached out to him personally for a statement he said:
When we box ourselves in with ideological purity, we neglect people who should be aligned with us on so many principles. People living at or below the poverty line hear those in our movement spouting on about issues that do not matter in their lives, they just want opportunity. We have the chance to really connect with people on cultural and religious issues by talking about our charity toward others and our desire to address matters with compassion and humanity, but instead we get boxed in on issues where none of our goodness actually gets reflected or conveyed to the people that matter the most.
That’s good insight into the electorate, especially in his district. He said that the district composition is 64% Democrat, 28% swing/independent/undecided, and 8% republican. Given the historical election results and general leftward shift of the county overall there’s no reason to doubt that assessment, and little reason to think that someone under the Republican label can even sniff at victory.
HD 148 is a district where engagement can start to move the needle in our direction. However, rather than see the opportunity the ideological purists are out in force saying that Luis is the only “real republican” in the race. If you were one of the 28% up for grabs, or one of the more moderate democrats in the district observing what’s going on would you even want to listen to what the Republican position is? Or would you think that the Republicans are zealots who demand ideological purity? The latter is more likely. Rather than an opportunity to have two different candidates engage the electorate this has become a detriment to the party brand in a district where votes could be shifted.
As damaging as HD 148 race is to the Republican brand the mayoral race is an order of magnitude more damaging. At least with HD 148 the scope of damage is limited. The mayoral election is doing damage on a county wide scale. The question of is Tony Buzbee a real conservative is a pronounced narrative, and it’s a narrative that is going to come back to do untold harm to the Republicans next year.
Bill King has some good points, but he is definitely not the individual to hold up as a bastion of conservative ideology. And that’s okay; a hard core conservative isn’t going to win the race for mayor. However, to attack Buzbee as not a true conservative by comparison to King is laughable. King has a book where he declares himself to be unapologetically moderate and he also says that prayer in public needs to be avoided. The leftward tilt to his social stances is the exact opposite of what the data on electorate orientation tells us what is electable.
However, because he almost defeated Turner last time, and because he was seen as the “Republican” candidate in that nonpartisan race he is being hailed as the “true Republican” in this race. This in turn is giving rise to attacks on Buzbee for his past entanglement with the Democrat party. Ideological purity means Buzbee has to be attacked. The average voter who hears attacks on Buzbee because he engages with both parties is going to be turned off to the Republican message. The data tells us that voters want someone who will compromise so things get done.
What’s especially worrisome, though, is what happens come runoff time. There’s a persistent rumor that King has said he will vote for Turner in a Turner/Buzbee runoff. King’s camp denies that this was said; however, there’s text messages (see below with names/numbers redacted) in the near contemporaneous time frame to the event where the statement was allegedly made suggesting that King did make the statement. This would be an easy issue to put to rest; King just has to come out and say he will endorse Buzbee if the runoff is Turner/Buzbee. The lack of such a statement lends credibility to those saying that the statement was made. If it does come to pass how is that going to make the Republican Party look? Lots of possible answers come to mind, but none are helpful to the Republican brand.
With Trump on the ballot next year is a tough time to run as a Republican. Absent the way this election cycle has played out there was reason for hope. Some of the political undercurrents, such as the low bail settings, give reason to hope that some of the ticket splitting voters would vote Republican, at least for the criminal courts. The District Attorney’s generally soft on crime actions only reinforce the need for republican judges who are going to be more law and order oriented. Now, messaging, already difficult with Trump using most of the oxygen in the room, becomes exceptionally more difficult because of all the ideological purity party infighting that has occurred. Until the infighting is resolved, and the ideological purity scourge abates, we are our own worst enemy regarding electability.