Bud Kennedy

‘The voters are finally being heard,’ but what now for split GOP?

Reality TV star power and the fear of a long-hated foe helped Texas Republicans turn out voters like never before.

But did they come out for the party? Or just to party with Trump?

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, met more new voters in the last two weeks than he’d ever imagined. They were still showing up Tuesday when polls closed on Trump’s victory and an election that broke records across Texas and America.

“It was amazing, and I don’t know where they all came from,” he said Tuesday as Tarrant County Republicans gathered to watch returns at a Colleyville movie theater.

“I can’t believe so many people have been living here all along and not voting. For some reasons, they all decided to come out for the first time ever. They all told me how much they like Texas and don’t want it to change. And they don’t like Hillary Clinton.”

Trump’s powerful voter appeal means Republicans now have a genuine identity crisis ahead.

The Texas party has been dominated by leaders like George W. Bush, who didn’t vote in the presidential race, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who offered tepid support for Trump as “my party’s nominee” because he was “fearful” of Clinton.

Instead, Trump’s campaign in Texas was led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a former radio talk entertainer; and maverick cowboy-rancher Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Trump openly warred with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, even though Cruz eventually offered support, and never earned even token support from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who said he had “serious concerns about the nominee.”

If America is divided, so are Texas Republicans.

“Nothing is changing in Texas,” Capriglione said early Tuesday, before returns came in: “We’re going back to Austin to govern Texas the same way as always. … This election is all about emotion. But in Austin, it’s all about policy.”

Some emboldened voters at the watch party want more Trump style in Texas.

“The voters are finally being heard,” said Fort Worth Republican Judy Laing, wearing a Trump button and another reading, “Stop Clinton Now.”

“I hope the party follows Trump,” she said: “There’ll be some hope for the country.”

Fort Worth Republican Steve Myers said establishment Republicans ought to unite with new Trump voters: “It should be all about supporting the party. If they’re not even going to support the party nominee, what do we do with them?”

Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder of Bedford said Republicans shouldn’t bicker over which faction “runs” the party.

“Nobody really ‘runs’ the party,” he said.

“There are too many different elements in the party for any group to ‘run’ it. They said years ago the Reagan voters were ‘taking over’ the party. … We just all blended in.”

Trump’s new voters are Republicans to stay, Wilder said.

“They’ve got nowhere else to go,” he said.

“They’re not going to all become Democrats.”

And they won’t stay home anymore.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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