Texas has long been considered the pinnacle of conservatism in the United States. This reputation isn’t undeserved, but it does lead to a dangerous notion that Texas will always be a far-right state. Some Democrats, especially those who do not live there, may even go as far as to say that Texas is a “lost cause” when it comes to turning blue. Is this a valid assumption? It certainly seems like a lost cause, especially now that the Republican party in Texas has approved a new agenda outlining its official beliefs: that the 2020 election was unlawful, that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president, and that homosexuality is an “abnormal lifestyle choice.” To many in the more liberal parts of the country, these policies affirm Texas’s stereotype and the growing belief that the state is so conservative that there is no possibility of reconciliation. But the situation in Texas is not simply a matter of conservatism; it is dangerous for democracy. And while many may feel that Texas politics are unique to Texas, the agenda set by state Republicans could lead to a domino effect with serious implications for all of the United States.
It goes without saying that political polarization in the United States has reached heightened levels in recent years. Building on a history of conservatism in the South and a generally more liberal environment in the North, Americans tend to associate certain states with Republicans and certain states with Democrats. Texas fits into the former category; extreme conservatism in Texas is generally written off as typical by the rest of the country. An act as extreme as the new agenda reinforces Texas’s conservatism and strengthens polarization. And according to McCoy et al. writing for American Behavioral Scientist, polarization is self-reinforcing; more political division tells people that the other party’s gain is their loss, leading to a seemingly permanent divide that transcends the political issues at hand. Many non-Texans may look at this particular set of policies and write it off as status quo. But it may be necessary to break this trend and refuse to accept Texas Republicans’ antidemocratic policies as ordinary conservatism.
The policies themselves are deeply threatening, not only to the Democratic party but to democracy as a whole. Different parts of the new party platform fit into Lust and Waldner’s three requirements for democratic backsliding: the degradation of lawful and competitive elections, civil liberties, and government accountability. According to them, all three must be present to be considered backsliding, and all three are present in this particular case. Texas Republicans seek to degrade a lawful election by maintaining the view that the 2020 election was illegitimate. This view is also a measure of rejecting political accountability; maintaining the illegitimacy of Biden’s election inherently means that Republicans are validating Donald Trump’s antidemocratic rhetoric and efforts to overturn the results. Finally, civil liberties are at risk with their belief that homosexuality is a choice, which could lead to efforts to restrict gay rights. As all three criteria are filled, the Republican party platform represents a platform of democratic backsliding.
But why is this important outside of Texas? Why does the platform of the Republican party matter to the rest of the country? First, it is important to note that Republicans in Texas are powerful; they make up the majority of the state legislature and are the political party of Governor Greg Abbott. Thus the party platform holds a massive amount of weight among Texans. Another crucial detail is that the language in the platform specifically calls for Republicans in Texas to mobilize and participate in elections. Republicans in Texas may be inspired to turn out at higher rates for elections, including those at the federal level. Considering that Texas has 36 representatives in the House and 38 electoral votes, it holds a major stake in presidential elections and in Congress. If Republican voters are mobilized to vote for a party and candidates whose platforms include policies of democratic backsliding, this could lead to a threat of democratic backsliding at the federal level.
This threat causes us to revisit the concept of polarization. McCoy et al. emphasize that polarization creates a pack mentality where one party’s gain is another’s loss. The general environment of extreme polarization can provide another reason for Texas Republicans to mobilize; research done by Iyengar and Krupenkin shows that negative feelings toward an opposing party is a high motivator for political participation. As polarization causes an increasing feeling of division and opposition, Republicans in Texas have even more of an incentive to support their party, which in turn increases the risk of electing federal leaders who support democratic backsliding. So although the polarized environment may lead us to believe that this level of conservatism should not be addressed, polarization is also the reason why the Republican platform in Texas will have ramifications for the rest of the country if it is ignored.
As the United States faces midterm elections this year and a presidential election in two years, mobilizing voters is naturally a priority. As discussed previously, polarization (along with explicit language in the platform) is a major reason why Texas Republicans may participate at high rates in the future. However, polarization can also lead non-Texans to regard the platform as just conservative when it is actually antidemocratic. It is crucial to recognize the danger and potential federal implications of the Republican platform. Polarization is a difficult thing to overcome, but doing so would reduce the likelihood of political backlash while eliminating the factors that cause backlash in the first place. At this point in time, abandoning apathy could very likely save democracy in the United States.
Hi Afton! An interesting piece you’ve written here. I’d like to challenge you and propose a position you may have not considered. I view this issue as less binary than normal conservatism and fringe anti-democratic conservatism. I think the reality is rather this has become the new normal of modern conservatism. In not writing it off as an extreme of the ideology but rather what the mainstream has adopted, you can see the threat for what it is, one of two major ideological streams in this country adopting anti-democratic and openly fascistic positions as its standard. On a side note, Texas is notably shifting left a bit, unlike states like Ohio, for example. What that shows is this platform from Texas Republicans is emblematic of Republicans in a lot of states. Regardless of the political environment, they continue to adopt the same things. I also think this is not new, conservatism arguably has been on this track for at least the last forty years. The implementation of outright lack of acceptance of democratic structures is probably the newest feature in my opinion. Nixon and Reagan declared war on black and brown communities and were determined in destabilizing them by any means necessary. Gingrich, Bush, and Cheney helped reinvigorate a 21st-century conservative movement built upon racialized voter suppression, xenophobia, homophobia, and embracing the worst tendencies of white working-class America. We have simply reached the apex of their work and the results are playing out before us. We can either sit by and watch them tear down our fragile institutions or do our best to combat it.
Hi Afton! I agree that the Republican Party of Texas’ platform presents a serious threat to American democracy, but would also like to add a note on why it remains critical for Democrats to focus on state-wide elections in Texas. As you mention, many Democrats have given up on the state, writing off Texas as a Republican stronghold and failing to run/ invest in competitive campaigns. While it may be true that Texas seems like a lost cause, this perspective itself directly contributes to Democratic backsliding. As defined by Farrell, a key feature of Democratic regimes is the idea of a legitimate opposition in free and fair elections. Given that Republicans have held a state Trifecta for 20 years and a triplex since 1999, Texas is virtually a one-party state, undermining the legitimacy of Democrats as an electoral opposition. This phenomenon is compounded when Democrats ignore the state, choosing instead to focus on areas they perceive as winnable. With the current rhetoric surrounding election fraud, as you point out, the one-party dominance may also weaken the integrity of free and fair elections. Therefore, it is necessary for the health of democracy that Democrats work on running strong campaigns that appeal to the values of Texas voters, allowing them to subvert the Republican Party’s ability to adopt such extreme platforms with little pushback and accountability. Finally, I would also like to briefly draw attention to other civil liberties threatened by the Republicans Party of Texas’ platform. By supporting Christian prayer and the 10 Commandments being returned to schools and government buildings, the platform clearly violates the establishment clause, chipping away at the separation of Church and State. There also is language opposing a women’s right to choose, instead giving significant protections to the lives of the unborn.
I really enjoyed reading your post. I feel as though in places like Texas, where it seems that Republicans will always win the elections, it is easier than ever to go to the far-right. When an election is all about the primaries, as it is in places where one party is almost guaranteed a win, candidates must fight from the same party. One of the easiest ways to stand apart from the crowd is to shift away from everyone else. In this case, the further right you go, the more people will listen. This has been a trend that I have noticed significantly in the last few elections, on both sides. This is what has led to the polarization you talked about, as well as the platform discussed, and policies made. Polarization in this country as a whole is getting out of control and is leading to a lot of democratic backsliding and erosion. Throughout history, we have had periods of extreme polarization, followed by times of centralism and compromise. I just hope the pendulum swings back towards the middle soon. It seems like that is the only way we can save democracy in the United States, as you put it.
Hi Afton! I found your post to be very interesting. Polarization is very prominent in Texas, as you have already pointed out. The “us versus them” narrative is causing a political divide so deep that it is hard to imagine the possibility of mending it. However, I would like to focus on how voting restrictions in Texas are tamping down free and fair elections. Bermeo explains that one way for a democracy to erode is when elections are manipulated in a strategic manner. Besides the fact that Democrats appear lost when it comes to forming an efficient campaign in Texas, the Republican party has also been introducing new legislation to expand their already uncompromising voting laws. Included in the proposal were articles regarding people with disabilities (having to prove their status before being granted the right to an absentee ballot) and polling hours (precincts would be unable to remain open for those who work late), among other policies. The piece of legislation, being brought forward in 2021, was eventually struck down. However, I don’t believe that this takes away from the intention; the fact that this bill even made it to the Senate says a lot about Texas politics. With the increasing polarization and obvious degradation of free and fair elections, the situation is becoming incredibly worrying. As it extends to the rest of the country, Democrats and others must remain vigilant and actually engage in fighting to win back seats in Texas.
I completely agree that the massive increase in polarization amongst the U.S. electorate and policymakers has led those on the conservative side of the aisle to participate in elements of backsliding. Still, I fail to recognize how the recent political developments in Texas separate it from the rest of the country. A clear stance against homosexuality was an overt aspect of both major parties’ platforms until just around a decade ago and has remained on the Republican docket since then. Texas Republicans are far from the only prominent conservative force adamantly against LGBT rights; one only needs to look at the recent comments from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to see how this stance proliferates through conservatism in every branch of our government. Texas Republicans’ rejection of the 2020 election results are similarly popular amongst political peers. Outspoken MAGA Representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz have failed to both publicly accept Joe Biden as the lawfully elected President and condemn the January 6th insurrection of last year. Many powerful members of the GOP establishment like Senators Graham and McConnell took over a year to outwardly accept the election results; while not as radical politically as the new MAGA block, the mass polarization you discussed has motivated these old-style politicians into an uneasy political coalition with the extreme bloc. The new Texas Republican platform is merely a symptom of these much larger federal issues. Similar trends can be seen in many other traditionally red states, including the almost-as-important state of Florida (electorally speaking).