Will a #NeverTrumper be able to lead the Harris County Republican Party to victory in 2018? Paul Simpson has kicked off the new year with a series of meetings to try to justify his losing campaign of 2016. Simpson and his team met separately with bloggers, including David Jennings and me, candidates, and judges and he is now on a road show to explain his losing 2016 campaign. Simpson has a lot of data to go with his talking points as to why Harris County Republicans did so poorly. This is my review of Simpson & Co.’s efforts in the 2016 election cycle.
Simpson and his consultant, Kevin Shuvalov, prioritized voter turnout in HD 134, home to Sarah Davis. The re-election of Sarah Davis, the self-identified pro-choice “Republican” was a priority to Joe Straus as Davis carried all of Planned Parenthood’s bills last session.
In the 2016 election, Texas Right to Life specifically targeted and campaigned against two Harris County “Republicans”: Sarah Davis and Devon Anderson. By now, you know that Anderson prosecuted pro-life heroes David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for their brave videos that unveiled Planned Parenthood’s misdeeds. It should be noted that Davis endorsed Anderson.
Davis’s district is one of the most liberal Republican leaning house districts in Texas. When Anderson, in a last ditch effort to defeat her opponent, claimed that her opponent would be a weaker district attorney because of her sexual orientation, I know that Davis had to think twice about her endorsement.
Davis and the Harris County Republican Party were aided by Kevin Shuvalov, a political consultant who also does work for Straus. A very rudimentary knowledge of HD 134 and Harris County would have told you turning out the vote in the most liberal house district would not be helpful to countywide Republicans, it was not. It did help Sarah Davis.
At the outset, it was clear that Harris County Republicans would have an uphill battle. Given Ted Cruz’s posture, many of his supporters were #NeverTrumpers. Instead of using the momentum of conservative victories such as the defeat of the so-called equal rights ordinance, Simpson and the gang harnessed the #NeverTrump movement and explicitly directed voters to not worry about the top of the ticket but make sure that they vote for our judicial candidates. This approach was flawed in many ways.
First, Simpson never made a compelling argument for a Republican judiciary. Why are Republicans better on the bench? Second, by running a #NeverTrump campaign, Simpson failed to get Trump supporters to the polls.
Simpson is now claiming that two factors led to the downfall of Harris County Republicans: (1) Donald Trump and (2) Devon Anderson. Anderson’s horrendous decision to jail a rape victim and indict pro-life activists certainly did not help the Harris County Republican effort in 2016. Whether you agree or disagree with Anderson’s positions, the real damage was the endless fodder for campaign commercials that she provided to her opponent. Judging Anderson by her record, she was a failed district attorney and had to go.
Unbelievably, Anderson’s campaign made a succession of errors. First, she made this video immediately after Channel 2 broke the story on Jenny, the jailed sexual assault survivor. Then, it was revealed that another survivor and a witness were jailed in order to compel their testimony. The Anderson campaign, while criticizing her opponent for “using” Jenny, deployed Jenny’s father as a campaign tool to say that he supported the jailing of his vulnerable child by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
You cannot encourage people to vote straight ticket with a problematic candidate like Devon Anderson on the ballot. In the past, problematic candidates have been removed from the ballot to avoid a disaster like we saw in 2016. The party ballot is as good as its weakest candidate and this was true with Anderson.
Paul Simpson’s belief that moderate, establishment Republicans could win elections in Harris County without social and fiscal conservatives is a false narrative. The biggest mistake in the campaign was to not utilize our most recognized successful brands. There are three brands that have been out for over twenty years: Conservative Republicans of Harris County (Hotze), the Link Letter (Lowry), and the Texas Conservative Review (Polland). Voters are conditioned to these brands in primary and general elections.
All three brands focus on different turnout. Hotze messages to seniors in a mail-in ballot program. Hotze’s brand is very effective and seniors expect to get his piece in the mail the way they have for over twenty-four years. Lowry’s Link Letter focuses on early voters and systematically sends the Link Letter out to well-conditioned voters. Both Hotze and Lowry have an identifiable social conservative voting base. Polland is different and I will come back to that in a minute; however, the sophistication of these so-called slates is unique.
Branding is important and Hotze and Lowry understand that social conservatives are reliable voters. The social conservatives can sway primary votes and this is where their influence has been most visible. Simpson and company have underestimated these brands in general elections and actively worked against them. The 2016 election proved this point.
Gary Polland and the Texas Conservative Review focus on election day voters. Gary’s brand is a reflection of him and is the most moderate of the three brands. Gary’s brand is influential in general elections and has a conservative Jewish following. Watching what Barack Obama did to Israel on his way out the door gives us an excellent opportunity to expand our base in Harris County. Gary is Jewish in case you did not know. All three of these brands work well together in general elections.
Simpson does not want to recognize the importance of these assets. Donald Trump certainly knew that he needed social conservatives to win the Presidency just as Simpson needs social conservatives to win Harris County. I have asked Simpson more than once what his plan is to unite the local party. He does not have one. This will not sit well with Republican candidates on the 2018 ballot. Simpson may have been a transitory candidate and the efforts to replace him are well underway. The question is will he be replaced by a candidate who can reach out to all factions within the local party. This will not be an easy task.
David Jennings analysis