The Real Fight the “Soul” of the GOP is Being Fought in Texas

By Alex Gonzalez

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Attorney General Greg Abbott at first Rio Grande Valley gubernatorial debate.

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While Texas is a solid RED state, there are many political analysts in both parties, Republican and Democrat, thinking that Texas is in a transition stage caused by demographics and an ideological “purism” that clashes with the demands of economic growth. And these factors are leading to a fight for the “soul” of the Republican Party in Texas; and nowhere is more visible that the fight for the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas for the Hispanic Vote where Attorney General Greg Abbott has launched an unprecedented campaign to win the Latino Vote. But this effort to woo The Latino Vote in South Texas contrasts with the strong hardened senior tea party conservative movement in the state that controls a big share the Republicans base.

Last weekend, Republican candidate for governor Attorney Greg Abbott launched a major get-out-the-vote effort in the Rio Grande valley under the name “Unidos with Abbott” with emphasis on education and cultural themes unique to South Texas and Hispanics (mostly Mexican-Americans) while avoiding the “hot” issue of immigration.

Coincidentally, two polls were released this week suggesting that Latinos are now prioritizing the issue of immigration more due the “humanitarian crisis” of unaccompanied minors in South Texas last summer. One poll by Gallup shows that, Hispanics see the issue of immigration more important now than in April of this year when Latinos ranked immigration in 5th place. But, the same poll shows that older Republicans and tea partiers in the state have hardened their position on immigration after the “Humanitarian crisis.”

In addition, the new poll by the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday also showed that older Republicans and Republican leaners are more critical of the party on illegal immigration and more likely to fault the party for being too willing to allow immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status.

Most Republicans 35 and older (60%) say the party is not doing a good job of representing their views on illegal immigration, compared with 33% who say it is doing a good job. By contrast, Republicans under 35 are divided: 48% say the party is doing a good job and 45% say it is not. By wide margins, older Republicans who are unhappy with the party’s stance on illegal immigration say it is too willing to allow undocumented immigrants to get legal status. Among those under 35, 20% say it too willing to allow legal status, while about as many (24%) say it is not willing enough. 

Older GOPWhat these two polls show is that over the Summer, the percentage of U.S. Hispanics naming immigration as the most important issue facing the U.S. nearly doubled from the first half of the year, as the issue received heavy media attention related to the surge of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America. The poll shows that:

U.S. Hispanics’ mentions of immigration as the top problem rose from 13% to 25% between the first half of the year and the past three months, while immigration rose from 4% to 15% among all adults. Apart from the importance they place on immigration, there is little difference in how U.S. Hispanics and all Americans describe the nation’s challenges.

In other words, the issue with “unaccompanied minors” from Central America caused that older Republicans hardened their views on immigration, but it also caused that Hispanics became more aware of the issue, and thus, wanting an overhaul of immigration. So while the issue of “unaccompanied minors” toughened the view of immigration  among older Republicans–tea partiers–it also moved the issue of immigrating to second place among Hispanics, and it also made Obama and Democrats less popular among Hispanics for the “lack of action” on immigration because now only 52 percent of Hispanics think Democrats did a good job handling this issue, according the Pew poll.

And this was not the case before last May when immigration ranked 5th among Hispanic voters when Pew Research Center surveyed the Hispanic community and showed that, there were several issues that consistently rank higher on the list than immigration. “In 2013, some 57% of Hispanic registered voters called education an “extremely important” issue facing the nation today. That’s compared with jobs and the economy (52%) and health care (43%). Just 32% said immigration.”

Consequently, there are two very different views on immigration from “older and whiter” Republicans that make up the GOP base in Texas and the growing bourgeoning Hispanic voters. And these are bad news for political bosses who want to keep Texas as a solid RED state with a small Latino Vote share within the GOP.

For example, The GOP in Texas has failed to attract new “Anglo” voter for the last 8 years, as well as Latinos; and the  senior “Anglo”base keeps shrinking . For instance, in a recent interview with Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri argued that, though,  it is true that the Republican Party has failed to attract new voters, the fact that Republicans keep winning elections must mean that the GOP is being successful in attracting minority voters. That is the only mathematically explanation, he argued.

So the results of 2014 mid-term election will very important because it will help measure whether the GOP is gaining traction among Hispanics voters—the hypothesis proposed by chairman Munisteri–in heavily Latino areas like the Rio Grande Valley, or whether Latinos are staying away from the GOP since, as the two polls by Gallup and the Pew Center showed, immigration has become “a the top problem”  among Hispanics. Note: In 2012, news organization and research groups did not conduct exit polling in Texas, but this year exit polls will be taken.

In addition, last June, chairman Munisteri sent an email citing a Gallup tracking poll to show how the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) was successful in wooing Latinos. The emails stated that “2014 has confirmed what previous Texas GOP polling has shown, that the Texas GOP is making significant gains in the Hispanic community.”

The poll showed that Hispanics identify with the Republican Party far more than the national average. It showed that 27 percent of Hispanics in Texas identify with the GOP, whereas only 21 percent identify as Republican in the nation.

latino GOP Gallup“Hispanics in Texas are more likely to identify as Republican than are Hispanics elsewhere, and the Republican Party in Texas has seen more growth in Hispanic support over the past five years than the Democratic Party,” Gallup’s Andrew Dugan said in his analysis of the results. Among the Anglo residents polled, 61 percent identified as Republicans.

The argument for this “significant gains in the Hispanic community” in the email was that because in Texas 27 percent of Hispanics in the Gallup poll identified as Republican, the GOP’s outreach effort was a success. But, 27 percent is exactly what Mitt Romney got in 2012, lower than what George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry received in the past. So Greg Abbott is not buying this 27 percent “significant” success argument. For Greg Abbott success means 40 percent, or higher.

Abbott’s campaign is on the offense in the Rio Grande Valleys aiming at wooing more Latino voters by promoting improvements on education and making job-luring initiatives more  accountable, and creating jobs. Also, Abbott has proposed $4 billion more for transportation infrastructure improvements, as Texas’ population continues to grow.

In an state where the Latino Vote can realign the power structure with a high turnout, Abbott is dedicating a big part of his campaign to woo Latino voters in South Texas to keep Texas RED in the coming years; he has committed his campaign to get at least 40 percent of the Latino Vote in the Rio Grande Valley, hence his soft “tone” and immigration and Latino message, in both English and Spanish, focused on Jobs, education, and family themes as “juntos.”

Abbott is focusing on issues Latinos have ranked important to them such education, jobs and the economy, and cultural themes like “juntos’ that are unique to Mexican-Americans in South Texas. More importantly, Abbott is doing in 3 months what the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) has failed to do in past four years: a sustained outreach effort to Latino voters in South Texas.

by-state-e1372973563519Thus, the fact is Abbott wants the Latino support to be at the same level of Rick Perry and George W. was, 40% or higher. “We’re aiming for 50 (percent), but I’m telling you, if I get more than 40, it’s our understanding that that would set the record,” said Abbott.

And this big-scale effort is happening only in Texas, the only state where a Republican candidate has a specific number on how to measure a successful outreach effort. No other Republican Candidate, or incumbents, is investing as much as Abbott is too attract Latinos.

However, this effort is very different from the tea party movement that controls the GOP base in the state where many conservative national “outside” groups set the tea party agenda. The Republican establishment triumphed over tea party activists in a many Senate primaries this year and marked the end of primary where tea party insurgent candidate saw to revolve against the “establishment“ but failed.

Thus, what happened this year in other states like Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Colorado  was a major setback for tea partiers and good for the GOP “establishment;” but it will have some repercussions in Texas. Most of these groups are ran by “professional” grassroots operatives within Freedomworks, Heritage Action, Club for Growth, among others, with lots of experience who want to maximize their investment with legislators in Congress; and they know the “tea” is still brewing hot in Texas due to a strong anti-Obama sentiment. These groups will presume, after losing in influence in other states, they can still have access to Congress through Texas tea party GOPers like Ted Cruz.

As noted by Dan Balz, Texas might qualify now as the “epicenter of the conservative movement” across the country.

Texas voters could elect the most conservative ticket of statewide officials in the state’s history and Grass-roots activists are even more conservative. The party’s changing leadership shows this year; we will have biggest changing of the guard in statewide offices in years after November, regardless of how individual races end. 

So it is true that tea party “insurgency” movement is strong in Texas GOP circles and they have a lot support from “outside groups.” But is also evident that all of these groups have natural enemies in Texas like the U.S. chamber of Commerce, the Republican establishment that wants to govern and Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association Of Businesses, who wants an immigration reform.

Most of these tea party groups will oppose any bill related to funding for infrastructure–road, water projects–in the Texas legislature, and Proposition 1, Transportation Funding. As a result, this tea party recalcitrant insurgency will run counter to the interests of the business community who see these projects essential to keep Texas competitiveness (the so-called Texas Model) for the coming decades. So this will eventually lead to a intra political feuds between the tea party purists ideologues (and Empower Texans) and the governing Republican brand led by Greg Abbott and Speaker Joe Straus.

Therefore, Texas is where a real fight for the “soul” and the future of Republican party is being fought. No other Republican candidate running for governor, in a state with large Hispanic population, is engaging in this BIG 40 percent Hispanic outreach effort, while keeping the tea party “older and whiter” based energized. But therein lies the conundrum for Republicans in Texas: a shrinking older hardened “Anglo” tea  party base, the increasing Latino vote and the businesses community, groups that perceive tea party purism as an obstacle for competitiveness—education, infrastructure, and immigration reform.

Abbott’s campaign is engaged in a true fight for the “soul” and the future of the Republican Party where Hispanics and an “older whiter” tea party base can co-exist and meet the reality of the economic interests of  Texas.

meAlex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote! comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com

 

 

 

 

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