AUSTIN -- After a weekend highlighted by fiery speeches from Texas' top Republicans, state convention delegates have returned home from Fort Worth to prepare for a busy general election season.
"The conventions serve to unify the party after the primaries. It's why they're scheduled right after these runoffs," Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said Monday. Back in the Texas capital after a full week of activities preceding and culminating in the 2014 Republican State Convention, Mackowiak says statewide candidates took advantage of the party spotlight.
"Every candidate was trying to achieve something," said Mackowiak. "For Abbott, he was trying to assume control of the Republican Party of Texas as the gubernatorial candidate. For Perry he was trying to pivot to the national stage and to possibly run for president again. Ted Cruz was clearly firing up the grassroots in a way that only really he can do. He is the biggest star in Texas politics on the Republican side by far."
While Cruz established his predominance by handily winning a presidential straw poll, Mackowiak says the convention also featured an implicit passing of the torch from Gov. Rick Perry to his party's nominee to succeed him, Attorney General Greg Abbott. The convention also offered the party faithful a chance to heal rifts created by bitter runoff battles, most notable of which being the contest between incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick.
"Dan Patrick was able to thank the delegates for all the work that they'd done and talk about his platform, which doesn't seem to be changing much from the primary elections to the general elections. He seems focused on a lot of the same issues in the same way," said Mackowiak. "There was a split between Patrick and Dewhurst, but I think people are starting to fall in behind Patrick; partly because he won, partly because he's an effective communicator and partly because he's going to be a very strong lieutenant governor."
The convention also drew controversy over some changes to the party platform. While the party dropped stern anti-LGBT language included in the 2012 platform -- such as "homosexuality tears at the fabric of society" -- it incorporated support for so-called "reparative therapy." The controversial idea of using psychological therapy to "turn gay people straight" has been banned from use on minors in two states.
"Texas remains a pretty socially conservative state. The Republican party remains a very socially conservative party," said Mackowiak, who notes feelings regarding the Biblical view of homosexuality are strong among the party's evangelical base. "I probably wouldn't have had that particular plank in the platform. I would rather have had us said, 'We stand for traditional marriage.' That to me seems to send all those signals."
After appearing to reach a compromise on the issue of immigration, an unusual series of events ended with many delegates missing out on a decisive vote. The resulting plank replaced support for a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants with a more hard-line stance.
"I do think there was an opportunity for the party to unite behind a forward-looking platform plank on immigration," said Mackowiak, who says the incident showed Republicans are still divided on the immigration issue. "There are some folks that just want border security and nothing else. There are some who want border security and some type of temporary worker or provisional visa program. So there remains a division, and I think what you see in Texas you see across the country. It's part of the reason why the Republican Congress has had trouble unifying behind one path on immigration."
"Texas deserves better than what was spewed at the Republican Convention," Texas Democratic Party communications director Emmanuel Garcia said in a statement to KVUE Monday. "The rhetoric on stage and the platform debate have proved once again that compassionate conservatism and the pragmatic Republican party are no more."
"Despite all of the attention on the platform, the GOP can't help itself, it continues to be against voter rights, local neighborhood schools, Texas women, Texas Latinos, and the LGBT community," Garcia said. "After years of neglect to our infrastructure needs and the toxic immigration platform debate, we can now add Texas business to the list of groups that Republicans hold in contempt. Texas Democrats are clearly the inclusive, pro-growth, pro-opportunity party."
"The platform is one of those things that seems like it matters when you're at a convention for a couple days, but it's something that no one ever reads afterwards. It's always used against the party that passes it," said Mackowiak. Pointing out the delegates who attend the state convention and determine the party platform are among the party's most fired-up activists, Mackowiak suggests they are not necessarily representative of the broader party as a whole.
"I'm happy that the focus now goes between the real differences we have between the Republican party and our views and the Democratic party and their views," said Mackowiak, who suggests the most important takeaway from the convention is that the state party is cognizant of the political threat posed by Democratic groups such as Battleground Texas and is ready to present a united front once general election campaigning begins in earnest after Labor Day.
"For Democrats to succeed statewide, they have to win probably 90 percent of the independents and probably a quarter of the Republicans plus all the Democrats," Mackowiak said. "What we have to do is run good campaigns, make sure our candidates are well-funded and win Republican voters and make an argument to independents. If we're able to do that, we're going to keep all of the statewide elected officials and be in a very strong position in 2015. At the end of the day, I don't think the conventions matter that much."