TEXAS — As leaders in the Republican Party break from their support for President Donald Trump in the wake of the mob attack on the Capitol last week, divisions in the GOP have deepened, leading the party into crisis mode.
For four years, the party centered itself around a central figure, Trump. With that figure tarnished and a growing number of his former allies who blame his rhetoric for inciting the violent riots on Jan. 6, some are asking what the future of the party’s identity will be. Many Republicans are worried about the long-term impact of the outgoing president’s style of politics on the nation and their party.
But what about the Texas Republican delegation and the Texas GOP itself? Are we likely to see a deepening of divisions play out among the Lone Star State Republican voters and politicians, in which those who support Trumpian style politics go up against those who oppose Trump’s combative, anti-establishment style?
At the center of Wednesday’s events was Texas’ Republican congressional delegation, including Sen. Ted Cruz, leading the charge to object to the certification of the electoral college results in what normally is a pro forma procedure in the peaceful transition of power in the U.S. Cruz was backed up by 16 out of 23 of Texas’ Republican U.S. House members, all of whom objected to certifying the results even after the riots engulfed the Capitol.
Cruz denounced the violence that ensued on the Capitol on Jan. 6. But Democrats and others are pointing the finger at his moves to try and overturn the election in Trump’s favor as aiding the president.
As Democrats in the U.S. House prepare articles of impeachment against Trump, Democrats in Texas called for Cruz to resign and be investigated for “inciting treasonous and seditious acts among conspiracy theorists and domestic terrorists.”
Cruz fired back at the Democrats’ allegations, saying in a tweet, “Stop stoking division. Stop spreading hatred. Stop using malicious rhetoric (such as false & reckless charges of “sedition”). Stop showing contempt for the half of the country that disagrees with you. Violence is wrong. We can do better. We are one Nation.”
“There's no evidence that people in the Republican party are going to perceive that whatever happened yesterday that Trump’s rhetoric and their allegiance to Trump of the last 4 years have somehow gone a bridge too far,” said Jim Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
“I think if that were the case, we would have seen different votes yesterday and we would see being different rhetoric responses today, and we aren't seeing that,” he said.
Republican politicians in Texas aren’t likely to pull back from the cultivation of a deep distrust in government elections, promoted by the president, after Wednesday’s eruption in violence in the Capitol, Henson said.
In fact, Henson said he believes what Texans could expect to see Republicans continue to try to leverage anti-establishment and anti-elitist feelings expressed by many of the rioters and protestors in the nation’s capital Wednesday here among Texas voters, whether they themselves embrace those views directly or not.
An October poll by the Texas Political Project signaled that even before the Nov. 3 election, more than half of Republican voters had concerns that the integrity of elections was “extremely serious.” Voters were asked about issues such as people voting who were not eligible, people voting multiple times, or votes not being counted correctly.
Trump’s opponents accuse him of stoking those fears. Regardless of their origin, many Texas Republicans have played on those fears to build their own bases here at home, Henson said.
“Cruz and the members of the congressional delegation who voted to object to those electoral college votes after the riot are all a signal that whatever we might think, those members are reading their constituents in a way that suggests they think those views in the party remain powerful and there's no reason not to think so,” Henson said.
Neal Katz, the executive director of the Collin County Republican Party, has been fielding endless phone calls since Wednesday’s alarming events. Most of the callers are alarmed by the violence in the nation’s capital. Some callers put the blame on Katz and other Republicans for letting it get this far, he said.
“If you believe it's a bunch of grassroots Trump supporters trying to take over the Capitol yeah, you're mad at the Republican party right now,” he said. “If you believe it might have been outside forces, you're not mad at the Republican party. It's crazy right now.”
One of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S., Collin County was a focal point in the 2020 election as Democrats set their sites on trying to pick up suburban Republican voters showing signs they were rejecting Trump for his outbursts on Twitter and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county and its wealthy Dallas suburbs went for Trump by about 56% or 17 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2020, he won the county by just 4.3 percentage points over Biden, a notable narrowing of the gap in a former Republican stronghold county.
Many calls to Katz after Jan. 6 were in support of Cruz, who he said a large number of Republicans see as a Texas politician standing up for what he believes in, Katz said.
Sen. John Cornyn, the senior senator for Texas just re-elected in November, announced last month that he did plan to vote to certify Biden’s win, bunking his fellow Republican senator’s initiative and drawing ire from Trump, who called him a “Republican in name only.”
In a sign that divisions in the Texas GOP are growing, Katz said many Republicans were disappointed in Cornyn for not backing Trump’s call to challenge the election results.
“About 10% of the calls have been 'I'm done with the Republican party' because they feel the party is not backing Trump in a lot of cases or that yesterday just totally turned them off,” Katz said in a phone interview on Jan. 7. “A lot of people are running on emotion right now.”
Still, now is not the time for yelling and screaming and slamming down the phone, Katz said.
“It’s time to sit back and take a deep breath,” he said. “I personally feel that Biden is going to be the next president. It's official and guys, let’s get this country united and if you don't like the policies of the opposition party, get together and work towards changing it.”
He’s worried that the growing questions about election integrity during this year’s presidential election will deter voters from participating in the next election, Katz said.
Voters need to realize that politics is local, he said. “If you didn't get what you wanted in those elections, and you want to keep Texas red, you gotta fight in local elections. They think Washington, and they should be thinking local,” Katz said.
The division in Texas' Republican Party didn’t start this week, however, Henson said.
GOP chairman Allen West has been a strong supporter of the president and has publicly criticized Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas lawmakers as not being Republican enough.” When the Supreme Court rejected a case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting that the Nov. 3 votes from several swing states be tossed out, West dropped a hint of Texas secessionist rhetoric, saying that “perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”
Days before Cruz planned to object to the certification of Biden’s win on Jan. 6, the Texas GOP issued a statement that said, “We are proud that Senator Ted Cruz is leading the charge, but the Texas GOP expects all those who represent Texas or the rule of law to be standing with him, whether they are in the U.S. House or Senate. This is no time for sunshine Patriots.”
“We've got a chairman of the Republican party making a point of criticizing some of the major leaders of the party, including the governor and the speaker of the house in very hostile terms, and he's doing it in very Trumpian ways,” Henson said.
Don’t expect to see the divisions that are tearing up the national Republican party to carry the same intensity in Texas, Henson said.
“We are going to be experiencing the impact of these Trump-style politics and it's going to be couched as 'are you conservative enough?', but this isn't really about conservatism per se,” he said.
It’s about a political style and a mode of politics built to be combative and built on negative party identification, in which the real energizing force is not what the party believes but instead on your hostility toward the other party, Henson said.