The Texas GOP Takes a Hard Right Turn
The state’s congressional representatives say the party's new platform is much ado about nothing, but some analysts believe it could be a harbinger of things to come.
Coming off a stronger-than-expected 2020 performance and buoyed by a favorable national environment, Texas Republicans met at their convention earlier this month in high spirits and conducted the standard business of adopting a new policy platform.
While some of the platform’s newly adopted planks—on gas prices and parental rights, for example—are closer to standard-fare conservative talking points, much of the platform strays far outside the political mainstream.
Additions to the 2022 platform include a plank demanding the repeal of the 16th Amendment, which allows the federal government to levy personal income tax; a plank encouraging the abolition of the Federal Reserve; a plank declaring social transitioning for transgender individuals, which requires no medical intervention, “physically and psychologically abusive;” a plank calling for a referendum on Texas seceding from the Union; a plank declaring that “Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice;” and planks trafficking in fears over “The Great Reset,” a nebulous conspiracy theory inspired by the 2020 World Economic Forum conference of the same name that holds that a socialist world government is using climate policy to seize power.
Another conspiracy theory appears in a resolution tacked on to the end of the platform: that of massive fraud in the 2020 election. The document falsely identifies President Joe Biden as an illegitimate “acting” president whose victory was thanks to massive voter fraud in swing states.
Some experts and Texas Republicans cautioned against reading too much into all of the proceedings, as delegates at state conventions tend to be highly motivated activists, not rank-and-file party members. But the radical Texas GOP platform and the behavior of some attendees toward Republicans they deem unfit can tell us a great deal about the direction of the party.
Becoming a delegate requires being elected at local conventions in the run up to the Texas State Republican Convention. But Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said that becoming a delegate effectively boiled down to one requirement: a willingness to show up to those conventions and then travel to Houston. “It’s in some ways almost voluntary,” he said. “They’re representative of themselves. I don't think they're representative of any larger group.”
Still, Jones thought that the delegates and their votes “do tell us where the most active and most motivated members of the base are in terms of policy and ideology.”
Two Republican lawmakers who faced harassment at the convention tried to downplay the extreme nature of the platform.
“I don’t think that's representative of the vast majority of Republicans,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said when asked last week about the platform’s plank on homosexuality and the rebuke he received from the crowd. “It’s a very small subset of what the Republican Party is in Texas. I got 76 percent of the vote in my last primary, so that’s more representative.”
“I think just like all parties are hijacked by a very passionate group of activists, that’s even true at every event as well,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Houston Republican, told The Dispatch last week.
The convention crowd booed Cornyn when he spoke, and the adopted platform explicitly rebuked him for his involvement in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a measure addressing gun ownership and mental health in the wake of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings. Meanwhile, far-right social media star Alex Stein and others accosted Crenshaw and called him “eyepatch McCain.” The insult, coined by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, refers both to the eyepatch Crenshaw wears because of an injury sustained as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan and to former Sen. John McCain, who—like Crenshaw—harshly criticized Russia.
“These are provocateurs,” Crenshaw said. “They’re children. They’re clowns. They’re not conservatives, right? They’re just angry little boys that—like I said on my Twitter—probably can’t get girlfriends and so they’re looking for attention more than anything else.”
The hecklers don’t represent the vast majority of attendees, according to Crenshaw, who said a few minutes after the episode with them he received a standing ovation. He thought it fell to party leadership to make the convention more serious, and, consequently, more influential. “It’ll just be this thing that happens until you make it an actual adult gathering,” he said.
The plank declaring homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” has been a particular point of contention.
Convention delegate Jason Vaughn, who is openly gay and opposed the plank, expressed frustration about the attention it has gotten and also sought to put it in perspective. “A lot of the people that do this for a living and are trying to get Republicans elected are not happy, because it’s a distraction,” he told The Dispatch. “Nobody’s gonna go door to door and say, ‘Did you know the Republican Party thinks homosexuals are abnormal?’”
The plank, Vaughn said, barely passed the permanent committee, and did not pass through all of the subcommittees that planks typically must clear. But once planks reach the floor—as the plank on homosexuality did—delegates are almost guaranteed to approve them, according to Vaughn. “The problem is, most of them don’t actually pay attention to it. They kind of just vote [yes] on everything. Everything always passes.”
The state party also barred the Texas branch of the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative group advocating for LGBTQ rights, from setting up a booth in the convention.
National Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran panned the decision as “not just narrow-minded, but short-sighted” in a statement. The Log Cabin Republicans have been excluded from the convention in previous years, over the protests of some within the party, including Crenshaw and Cornyn.
The platform’s sway over elected Texas Republicans will likely be limited. “By and large, Republican officeholders are going to ignore most of the platform if it’s not convenient,” Jones said.
“I literally don’t pay attention to it,” said Crenshaw when asked to comment on the platform.
Still, Jones didn’t dismiss the influence of the platform entirely: “You will see some members of the base appeal to certain planks as they advocate for legislation in 2023, and there will be pressure on Governor [Greg] Abbott, Lieutenant [Governor Dan] Patrick and Speaker [of the Texas House of Representatives Dade] Phelan to at least adopt some of the proposals that made their way onto the legislative priorities, though not all of them.” Jones pointed to prohibiting transgender women from competing in women’s sports at the collegiate level or banning the sale of medical abortion drugs as planks from the platform that could become policy.
Many of the document’s outlandish planks—including many that caught the attention of national media outlets last week—were already part of the Texas Republican Party’s official platform. Planks calling to end all federal welfare programs, establish a state-level electoral college to elect the governor, assert the state’s right to secession, end the popular election of senators, and rescind no-fault divorce laws, for example, all appeared in both the 2022 and the 2020 platforms.
“This is more the trend. At least since the Tea Party movement came to prominence in 2010, [the platforms] always had some very conservative, even fringe elements to them,” Jones said.
The 2020 platform in turn added some radical planks that weren’t in the 2018 platform. Planks asserting the state’s right to secession and calling for a state-level electoral college to elect the governor were both new in 2020.
Even the 2018 platform could be extreme—it already called for scrapping all federal welfare programs, abolishing the Department of Education, and ending the popular election of senators.
In 2020, Texas Republicans were still reeling from losses in the 2018 midterms and worried about losing more ground in that year’s elections. Jones said that this kept the 2020 platform more moderate than the one adopted this year, especially on LGBTQ issues.
But Texas Republicans are less worried now. They are entering the 2022 midterms with a Republican-friendly national atmosphere, an unpopular incumbent president from the opposite party, and more favorable districts following a round of redistricting.
“In many ways they’re like an unbridled horse that wants to gallop to the right, and [this year] there was nobody there to pull them back towards the center,” Jones said. “Because the people who might have pulled them back towards the center, such as Gov. Abbott or Lt. Gov. Patrick or Speaker Phelan, didn’t feel the need to because they aren’t all that worried about losing anything in November.”
“At least based on the analysis that I do, the Texas Republican Party platform is almost always one of the most conservative,” said Daniel Coffey, a political science professor at the University of Akron who has written extensively about state party platforms.
His research, which uses a statistical program to quantify how conservative or liberal a platform is, suggests that state-level Republican party platforms across the country have been getting more uniformly conservative. Coffey also said that research by other academics such as Dan Hopkins at the University of Pennsylvania show that state platforms have become increasingly nationalized, and now rarely address state-specific issues.
Going forward, Coffey expected to see more and more state-level platforms following in Texas’ footsteps by endorsing false election claims: “As far as I know, it’s the first one, but I don’t expect it to be the last one.”
Coffey told The Dispatch that elected officials often say they don’t pay attention to platforms, but he thought that “over time, these things matter a great deal, so it shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant.”
“Because of the 2024 elections starting to approach, you may start to see more aggressive commenting on this, certainly by the 2024 platforms,” he explained. “There may be more comments about the legitimacy [of the 2020 election] which would matter if you have people like the secretary of state and others who are essentially nominated by those convention delegates, who say, ‘I deny what happened in 2020 [Biden’s electoral victory].’”
Jones thought that the platform’s false claims of election fraud, unlike some planks, reflected more than the beliefs of GOP activists: “The base believes it. There’s just no arguing with the base.”
“That’s not just the people who are at this convention,” he added.
“Texas Republicans rightly have no faith in the 2020 election results and we don’t care how many times the elites tell us we have to,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi said in a statement last week on the new platform. Rinaldi and the state party have not issued statements defending any other parts of the platform.
Soon after the convention, former President Donald Trump made clear on Truth Social, his social media platform, that he expected—or at least hoped—to see more of this as well: “Wow! Look at the Great State of Texas and their powerful Republican Party Platform on the 2020 Presidential Election Fraud. After much research and study, they disavow the national result for President. Such courage, but that’s why Texas is Texas!!! They know that a Country cannot survive without Free and Fair Elections (and STRONG BORDERS!).”
Audrey Fahlberg contributed to this report.