Convention could bring next Tea party vs establishment contest

AUSTIN -- The signs may no longer be up, but the battle to define the future of the state's dominant political party isn't exactly over.

Runoff victories in Tuesday's Republican runoff elections for Tea party-aligned candidates such as attorney general nominee Ken Paxton and lieutenant governor nominee Dan Patrick have reinvigorated movement conservatives in Texas.

Combined with the fall of perceived establishment candidates such as incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and 91-year old Rep. Ralph Hall -- the oldest member of the U.S. Congress -- Tuesday's battles captured national attention.

"If you're a Tea party supporter or an anti-establishment conservative, you can celebrate the results last night in Texas," CNN's John King said Wednesday.

Yet some are warning not to celebrate prematurely. An e-mail sent by anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life warned of so-called RINOs -- Republicans in Name Only -- trying to moderate the party's anti-abortion agenda at next week's Texas Republican State Convention. The organization did not return calls to discuss the alleged rumors, but the e-mail warned Tuesday's "Pro-Life victory could be short-lived."

"We've heard rumors that Republicans In Name Only are re-grouping and plan to take over the state by infiltrating the Texas Republican Party," read the message. "That's why we've teamed with those who love liberty and plan to show up in force at the Texas Republican convention. We will make sure that Life remains the top priority of the Republican Party."

"State conventions are obviously the activist wing of the party," explained longtime Texas politics watcher Harvey Kronberg, editor of The Quorum Report. "Whether Democrat or Republican, it's usually the most inflamed and most ideological of the constituencies."

Kronberg suggests figures such as Patrick and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz will enjoy homefield advantage over more establishment party figures at the convention, which will offer the Tea party an opportunity to take a victory lap. Still, fireworks could happen at any time.

"The purpose is to build enthusiasm so that when everybody departs, they're more or less on the same page and they go out and actively campaign for whoever the party ticket is," said Kronberg.

"In recent years there's been major conflict inside the Republican Party, so there've been ideological struggles," said Kronberg. "And since they're the dominant party in Texas or have been the dominant party in Texas, what happens at the convention has ripple effects, policy-wise, through the rest of the year."

The last Texas GOP convention in 2012 saw the unexpected endorsement of a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants as part of the state party platform. It also provided a glimpse of where core conservatives stood in the upcoming U.S. Senate runoff between Cruz and Dewhurst. When Gov. Rick Perry introduced the lieutenant governor, cheers were intermingled with a strong chorus of boos.

Despite the support of the party's business interests, the guest worker plank has already been targeted by some to be thrown out at this year's convention. Meeting today in Fort Worth, Log Cabin Republicans met today in Fort Worth to demand more support for LGBT causes. In a media release Thursday, the organization criticized the Republican Party of Texas for not permitting a booth inside the convention.

"Overall, Log Cabin Republicans of Texas has found incredible support within the Republican party -- Texans, like the rest of the country, are evolving on LGBT rights issues," Log Cabin Republicans of Texas Chairman Jeffrey Davis said in a statement. "The Republican Party of Texas has even welcomed many of our members as delegates to the Texas State Republican Convention. However, the party has denied our several attempts to host a booth in the convention exhibit hall, citing archaic language in the party platform to support their actions."

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri explained to KVUE Thursday that convention policy formalized under his tenure reflected longstanding informal policy which prohibited booths supporting causes which contradict major party platform planks. In 2012, booths for online gambling and gaming groups were turned down under the policy. This year, a pro-marijuana organization was also informed a booth would be denied.

While conservatives are expected to rally around the Republican ticket in November regardless of faction, the platform adopted at the state convention will provide talking points for candidates up and down the ballot on a wide range of issues. As in the past, it will be looked at closely by opponents seeking lines of attack during the general election.

Case in point, the Texas Democratic Party issued a statement Thursday inviting the Log Cabin Republicans to participate in the Texas Democratic State Convention in Dallas in late June.

"The Texas Democratic Party has always been proud to be the party of inclusion, the party of all people," Texas Democratic Party executive director William Hailer said in a statement. "It is a shame that in 2014, the Republican Party of Texas continues to exclude and hold prejudice against Texans."

"The only effect of a political platform is if the opposing party has a big enough microphone to make an issue of it and to draw a contrast, which Democrats have not had over the last three or four election cycles," said Kronberg.

The 2014 Republican State Convention will be held June 5 through 7 in Fort Worth.


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment