Politics & Government

Is Trump helping Texas Republicans or ‘killing us’? R’s brace for rally, secret audio

The President is coming this week, but not all Texas Republicans are sure that’s good news.

In a state where the Texas House speaker is said to have commented that President Donald J. Trump is “killing us,” uncertainty hangs over both the President and the party at the start of a telltale week.

Last October, when Trump hosted a giant rally in Houston, Democrats in purple Harris County swept out county officials and won 58 judgeships.

More recently, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has said it would be “disgraceful” if our Kurdish allies are abandoned to Turkish dominance in Syria.

(It’s easy to forget today that voters in only six Texas counties really wanted Trump as the presidential nominee instead of Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary. In Tarrant County, Trump was the favorite in only two precincts, in Haltom City and far west Fort Worth.)

A looming impeachment investigation is now close enough to include the arrests of two associates of Rudy Giuliani, who was the President’s attorney until Trump left his status unclear Friday.

Then there’s the matter of the Texas House speaker.

Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s Trump comment is said to be on a secret recording to be released this week full of gossip about House lawmakers. guaranteed to further roil Texas Republican politics.

Yes, nearly every Republican official will be on stage with Trump Thursday in Dallas. But when they’re asked about the President’s foreign policy or the Bonnen recording, I expect a “no comment.”

The release of the recording is “like a Category 5 hurricane hitting the GOP straight on,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus wrote by email.

The recording’s release also comes the same week as an annual retreat for the 83 Texas House Republicans Tuesday and Wednesday at an Austin-area golf resort. That includes five Tarrant County Republicans facing Democratic challengers.

With early voting only four months away for the March 3 Super Tuesday primary, it’s another disruption for Republicans.

“The unity (or lack thereof) following the caucus meeting will tell us how high the storm surge of discontent will be,” Rottinghaus wrote.

President Trump at a rally in Minneapolis last week. AP

At Rice, political science professor Mark Jones wrote that the Bonnen recording is more important than the Trump rally.

“This isn’t Trump’s first rally in Texas, and certainly won’t be the last,” he wrote by email, saying that the recording potentially affects Republicans’ 2020 Texas House campaigns and ruling majority in a session that will redraw election maps.

The recording, made secretly by the leader of a libertarian-conservative activist group, is expected to include “coarse and at times insulting language” combined with some candid discussions of other Republicans, Jones wrote.

“The uncertainty regarding the content of the conversation on this tape has been hanging over the Texas Republican Party like a dark cloud since July,” he wrote.

Weatherford College political science professor Darrell Castillo, a former White House security staffer under President Ronald Reagan, said Texas Republicans’ worry “stems from a fear that the state is already purple and may be about to turn blue.”

Rallies like Trump’s divert attention from policy issues, he wrote.

For his part, Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie is doing his best to rally the faithful in the only deep-blue Democratic county between Austin and Kansas City or St. Louis.

The local energy for the Trump rally is strong, he said. (Trump’s previous Dallas rallies have drawn heavily from deep-red East Texas.)

“You have a very energized base that is watching these impeachment hearings,” said Anderson, a former Texas House member and the architect of several Republican victories in both Dallas and Tarrant County.

The Bonnen recording is more Austin insider talk than voter concern, he said.

“That is something within the House they’ll have to deal with,” he said.

His greatest concern is that Texas Republicans might take victory for granted.

After all, the party is on a 40-year Texas winning streak in presidential elections.

“I guarantee you, the (U.S. Sen.) John Cornyn campaign is very active — the (Gov.) Greg Abbott campaign is very active getting out the vote for Republicans,” he said.

Historically Republican by a margin of about 50%-40% with 10% independent voters, by June Texas had slipped to 48%-42%.

The closer Texas gets, the more we’ll see of President Trump.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.