Skip to main content

Analysis: The Republican Who’s Keeping Texas Democrats Together

Donald Trump starred this weekend as the minority party’s engine, a source of Texas Democratic Party delegates’ enthusiasm and of their hope that someday, perhaps even someday soon, voters will elect a Democrat to statewide office.

GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump rallied supporters at Gilley's in Dallas on June 16, 2016.

Editor's note: If you'd like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey's column, click here.

SAN ANTONIO — Whether Texas Republicans give much money to Donald Trump or not, the New Yorker made a big splash in the state this weekend — as the galvanizing figure for the Texas Democratic Party’s biennial convention.

Trump starred as the minority party’s engine, a source of delegates’ enthusiasm at the gathering and of their hope that someday, perhaps even someday soon, Texas voters will elect a Democrat to statewide office.

He provided a bright spot for a party in need of one.

“Can you really believe that they nominated Donald Trump?” state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston asked cheering and jeering delegates Saturday. “Do you think they were smoking something?”

Trump is dealing hope to ardent Texas Democrats. He stands as their best chance for bringing pugnacious Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters together for the general election.

Most of the delegates at the convention didn’t seem to expect Clinton to beat Trump in Texas in November. Clinton suggested in a recent interview that she would like to see the state in play during this year’s election, but the state convention didn’t draw national figures or speakers from outside of Texas to try to make that happen. Clinton appeared in a pre-taped video.

But Democrats are hoping enough Republicans are turned off by their nominee to at least hesitate before casting a vote for him.

They rhetorically pelted Trump for days, making fun of his quotes, blasting his positions and calling him names.

“The Republican candidate for the highest office in the land?” asked congressional candidate Pete Gallego during his speech to delegates. “He’s a bigot.”

Instead of fretting over their own differences — and they have considerable lingering hurt feelings after the Clinton-Sanders primaries — they found, in Trump, something they all agree on.

It’s probably not the best way to build a political coalition, but it seemed to work in San Antonio. Democrats had a chance to talk about something other than their own differences, and they had a chance to do so at the expense of the party in charge.

The chances for Texas Democrats are dismal this year. You know the highlights: They haven’t won a statewide election since 1994; they are vastly outnumbered in the state’s congressional delegation and in the Texas Legislature and are running in political districts drawn — quite effectively — by their Republican foes.

They’ve got every reason to be down in the mouth, but somehow, delegates at their convention were surprisingly upbeat.

Instead of fretting over their own differences — and they have considerable lingering hurt feelings after the Clinton-Sanders primaries — they found, in Trump, something they all agree on.

Contrast that general mood with that of Texas Republicans, who met for their own state convention in Dallas just days after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race in May.

Republicans’ fortunes in Texas are as good as the Democrats’ are bad. The GOP hasn’t lost a statewide election in more than 20 years. They’ve got more than two-thirds of the state’s congressional delegation and nearly two-thirds of its state legislators. The political maps have locked in their majority.

But the delegates at the state Republican convention were not their customary upbeat selves. Their man was out. Attendance was down. Most of the speakers in Dallas didn’t say the apparent presidential nominee’s name. Delegates had mixed opinions about their new nominee — just as the people who represent them did. Many said they won’t vote for a Democrat under any circumstances, but like their elected leaders, many said it would take some time to decide who, if anyone, would get their votes.

At the state Democratic convention, Trump’s name was on every speaker’s lips. He was the most reliable applause line. Clinton and Sanders had sizable factions on the floor of the Alamodome and a mention of either would rouse their followers.

Mentions of Trump charged up the whole crowd, Sanders and Clinton supporters alike. Sanders has some Democratic followers who, like Cruz’s Republican supporters, aren’t ready to vote for their own party’s nominee. Clinton might unify the Republicans before November, but the Democrats have a jump on them: speakers at their convention weren’t afraid to say their nominee’s name.

In Dallas, Trump was a hard sell. In San Antonio, he was the only thing selling.

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today