Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was not the only Texas Republican to have a bad week.Six months away from the state’s most decisive election — the biennial party primary — traditional Republicans sank further off the map for 2014.Dewhurst’s pushy spiel to an unimpressed Allen Police Department sergeant was not the only dropped call of the week for the business conservatives who have long governed the Texas Capitol.State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House budget chairman, retired after 20 years. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, an elected official for 28 years, was mocked as a cardboard cutout by the same Tea Party protesters who helped elect U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who later said he won’t endorse Cornyn or anyone else in the primary.Meanwhile, Tea Party religious or libertarian conservatives across the state organized “Come and Take It Texas” as opposition to Democrats’ “Battleground Texas” drive. And traditional Republicans just tried to figure out why state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, posted Web photos of dogs and cats.Cruz and Patrick are drawing Texas Republicans further to the right.“‘Country club’ Republicans are definitely in trouble,” Southern Methodist University political science professor Matthew Wilson wrote by email, adding that weak Democratic competition leaves “no incentive … to tack to the center.”TCU professor James Riddlesperger said any “center” has shifted.“‘National’ Republicans such as [former U.S. Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison who have solid conservative credentials are seen in Texas as too moderate,” he wrote. Dewhurst “may fall into this category.”Dallas County Republican Chairman Wade Emmert countered that the Republican Party hasn’t changed and that some groups just get more attention.“The Tea Party is passionate and vocal, but that’s not the only constituency,” he said, listing defense conservatives, Reagan Republicans and “plenty of others.”The party is moving right “just a little,” he said.SMU professor Cal Jillson wrote by email that Dewhurst’s problem, in part, is that he’s “not very quick on his political feet.” (Note challenger Patrick’s rapid strike and snarky pet-photo attack website, DewFeed.com.)But Jillson wrote that Pitts’ retirement says the most about the “frustration of the moderates.”In the lieutenant governor’s race, Rice University political science chairman Mark P. Jones saw Dewhurst falling behind Patrick and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, given by Jones an an example of a prominent business conservative.“The danger for the GOP,” he wrote, is that by the time Republicans realize they have swung too far, “it will be too late, and [Democratic San Antonio Mayor] Julian Castro will be celebrating his election as governor.”That might be in 2018.That’s three House election cycles away.“Every year,” he wrote, “there are fewer and fewer centrist conservative Republicans in both wings of the Capitol.”The Capitol may only need a right wing.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy