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.