Bud Kennedy

Donald Trump might lose Texas — if GOP takes a Libertarian lean

A few supporters of Donald Trump rally during the Republican Party of Texas state convention.
A few supporters of Donald Trump rally during the Republican Party of Texas state convention. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Donald J. Trump might sink like a cowflop in a stock tank, and Republicans would still win Texas.

But if the party nominee loses only one of eight Republican voters — if, say, one George P. Bush voter or one Ted Cruz supporter doesn’t take to his race-bashing against Latinos or mocking Heidi Cruz — then Texas’ 38 electoral votes might elect President Hillary Clinton.

Texas is a can’t-lose deal for Republicans. The Lone Star State hasn’t gone blue since 1976. But as Trump reaches for swing votes in North Carolina or Ohio, Texas is a state the GOP also can’t afford to lose.

The last time Democrats were excited about a candidate and Republicans were lukewarm, Barack Obama drew 3.5 million Texas voters but lost the state to Sen. John McCain by 12 percent.

The last nonpartisan, independent candidate in Texas was author Kinky Friedman. His 2006 campaign for governor drew 12 percent of the vote.

Let’s say 12 percent of Texas voters this year get swayed to Libertarian Gary Johnson, who was a Republican 15 years before Trump rejoined the party in 2009.

“If Johnson peels off 12 points from Trump,” said UT Arlington professor Rebecca Deen — and that’s a big if — then based on the 2008 turnout, Clinton would win, 44-43 percent.

“Good enough for the Electoral College,” she said.

But that assumes Clinton will motivate Texas Democrats the way Obama did, a big assumption.

Yet it also assumes Trump, a coarse New Yorker, would carry at least as many Republicans as McCain, a war hero from the Southwest with a mother from Cleburne.

Johnson, meanwhile, would have to draw more than the baseline libertarian Republican voters who usually support former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul or U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, said TCU professor James Riddlesperger.

And “the diehard [Bernie] Sandersistas or Hillary-haters might vote for Johnson as a protest,” Riddlesperger said, guessing Trump is not in danger unless Johnson is drawing more than 10 percent.

SMU professor Cal Jillson has written on third parties.

“Libertarians in Texas, when there is a Republican in the race, usually get a vote share in the mid-single digits,” Jillson wrote by email.

“Trump is a deeply flawed candidate, but — worst-case — say he carried only 10 states. Texas would be one of the 10.”

Trump’s bashing a prominent Indiana-born judge as a “Mexican” risks his appeal to Latino faith voters, who often swing Republican in Texas.

But he says something outrageous nearly every day, and it’s never too outrageous for Texas.

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