In the weeks leading up to election day, incumbent Travis County GOP Chairman James Dickey kept a close eye on his opponent’s Twitter feed, watching the steady stream of sexually explicit tweets that targeted everyone from Rick Perry to Barbara Bush. Dickey chose not to sound the alarm — and the man behind the tweets, Robert Morrow, won the election decisively Tuesday.
Now, members of the Travis County GOP are split about their feelings toward their divisive incoming chairman — some pledge mass mutiny, but others embrace him as an agent of change.
Morrow is no stranger to controversy. He’s openly wished several politicians would have heart attacks, says he believes members of the Bush family should be in jail and operates three Twitter accounts, one of which is exclusively dedicated to the theory that President Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Some members of the county GOP, including vice-chair Matt Mackowiak, said these beliefs and antics should disqualify Morrow from the chairmanship — hours after the election, Mackowiak said he viewed Morrow’s election as a “hostile takeover.”
“Mr. Morrow’s behavior would get most children spanked, for good reason,” said Jim Suydam, the precinct 450 chairman. “Mr. Morrow's language in the media, his statements on social media, his oddly proud misogyny — none of this is acceptable in a polite society.”
Those statements “render Morrow unfit” to represent the GOP, Suydam added.
But several other Travis County precinct chairs told The Texas Tribune they disagree with that assessment and believe Morrow will represent the GOP well in his new role. Still others said that because Morrow had been democratically elected, they had no grounds to dispute his legitimacy.
“I have no problems with Robert Morrow,” said Gonzalo Camacho, precinct 149 chairman, in an email to the Tribune. “What people do on their own time is their business, guaranteed by the US Constitution.”
Another precinct chair, Edwin Mallory, took special umbrage at Mackowiak’s pledge to remove the newly elected chair from his seat.
“Just because Robert Morrow is whacked out a little bit, you have to look at the other side of the book — those poor bastards are so afraid of losing power, they will say or do anything to hold onto it,” Mallory told the Tribune. “They know Robert Morrow won’t play ball with them.”
Landon Campbell, precinct 208 chairman, said he is skeptical Morrow would effectively be able to support local Republicans, a central responsibility of the Travis County chair.
“I can guarantee you that Robert Morrow will not be able to be an effective messenger for the Republican Party going forward, and that is a major problem,” Campbell said. Although he said he could not pledge his support to removing Morrow from his elected position, he added that he “will not make life easy for Mr. Morrow if he does become Chairman.”
But Mallory said it is establishment Republicans, not candidates like Morrow, who alienate people from the GOP: “The reason the Republican party has not grown is because of those idiots."
Even as precinct chairs express their support or hesitancy for a Morrow chairmanship, the man Morrow beat — the outgoing chair, Dickey — said he would rather not get involved at all.
“If you look at anything I have ever said or ever done, I have always strived very hard to elevate the tone of any discussion in which I participate,” Dickey said. “I would prefer that everyone else do the same.”
It was that spirit that guided Dickey’s decision to limit his re-election campaign. Dickey posted occasionally about endorsements on his Facebook page, and “put a few signs up,” he said, but he did not address or invoke Morrow’s background as a conspiracy theorist or Morrow’s presence on social media, where status updates such as, "I am feeling boobylicious today" rank among Morrow's more appropriate posts.
“I’ve never been a fan of negative campaigning,” Dickey said. “I don’t appreciate when other people do it, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it myself.”
Mackowiak said other members of the party knew well before the election that they were likely to see a flood of new GOP voters, turning out in a tumultuous election year without much regard to the races at the bottom of the ticket. Despite referring to Morrow’s election as a “complete disaster,” Mackowiak said there was no significant attempt to stop him during the campaign cycle.
“James knew there was some concern — he did a local poll a couple of weeks before early voting, and no one knew who he was,” Mackowiak said. “We knew there was a chance he was going to lose.”
And although Mackowiak has pledged to take any action possible to remove Morrow from office, those efforts will likely come to naught, according to ethics expert Buck Wood, an attorney familiar with county bylaws. Unless Morrow resigns or commits a felony, Wood said, the position is his to hold.
Morrow told the Tribune he had no intention of resigning, adding that anyone opposed to him could “go fuck themselves.”
“They elected him county chair, and for two years, he’s going to be county chair,” Wood told the Tribune. “They can try to talk him into stepping down — but other than that, they just screwed up.”