Skip to main content

Analysis: Texas braces for Hurricane Donald, chance of purple rain

Republican politicians in Texas ought to be celebrating right now, and for a variety of reasons. But the national election has them looking at the political weather forecasts.

Lead image for this article

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

If not for the gravitational pull of their presidential nominee, Texas Republicans — some of them, anyway — would be enjoying this moment. Things have been going their way in their sometimes public, sometimes personal, legal battles.

Rick Perry’s indictments are gone, obliterated after a long legal fight that culminated without a trial on the merits. The state’s highest criminal court ruled that the judicial branch cannot limit the executive branch’s veto power, tossing the indictments that accused Perry abusing his power by vetoing funds for a county prosecutor who refused his resignation demands.

Give him credit: Perry was right about the outcome all along, though he couldn’t shake the case in time to untangle the charges from his ill-fated second presidential campaign.

The former governor is also free of the burdens of public office and campaigning — self-chosen burdens, to be sure, but burdens just the same — for the first time since he won a seat in the Texas House in 1984. We wouldn’t have seen him on Dancing with the Stars last month if he was still on that public service leash.

There's been good news on the legal front also for Sid Miller, the state’s headline-lassoing agriculture commissioner, who won’t face any criminal punishment for putting personal trips on his official expense account. After news reports about his trip to Oklahoma for a “Jesus Shot” to ease his back pain, and another to Mississippi for a rodeo (which might offer some explanation for his aching back), Miller paid the state back. The Texas Rangers investigated. Travis County prosecutors decided whatever wrongs had occurred had been laundered by a combination of bad headlines and reimbursements to the state.

Miller is back to being Miller, which is to say that the rambunctious politician voters elected in 2014 has returned to his role as most colorful, blustery statewide officeholder in Texas.

Even Ken Paxton, the state’s attorney general, has pulled one foot out of the snare that has kept him preoccupied with personal legal woes since his election two years ago. A federal judge dismissed civil fraud charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying Paxton had no legal obligation to disclose his role as a securities advisor to his private law clients.

Paxton still faces three related felony indictments, and the SEC can amend its own filing and ask the judge to reconsider. But last week’s ruling offered him a rare bit of good news.

But instead of popping the corks over all their good news, Republicans are on high alert. They find themselves in perilous waters, fearing mutinous fellow travelers.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the Texas pol whose troubles are most closely tied to Donald Trump’s electoral pull — might be sailing pretty right now had the federal race not infected state and local politics in Texas.

Cruz ended his presidential race in the best possible condition. He was positioned for another run. He hadn’t been tagged with the kind of loss that can prejudice future voters. He was set to go about his business, win an easy re-election to the Senate in 2018, and maybe run for president again in 2020.

Instead of popping the corks over all their good news, Republicans are on high alert. They find themselves in perilous waters, fearing mutinous fellow travelers.

Then he gave the speech at the GOP’s national convention, winning some political friends and losing some by substituting “vote your conscience” where tradition would have had him say “vote for the nominee.”

Pressure grew. His feelings about Trump’s campaign fouls against Cruz’s wife and father changed. He announced that he would support the nominee after all, cheering the Trump camp and disappointing those in the Cruz camp who remain in the #nevertrump tribe of the GOP.

Two weeks after Cruz made the switch, voters got a look at a recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women — the kind of discovery that would have supported Cruz’s initial refusal to endorse.

Every time the junior senator seems to find his footing, the ground shakes again and knocks him down.

Miller and the state’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, signed up to help Trump in Texas. Perry endorsed him, too, avoiding most of the noise inside the GOP over whether to stay with Trump or to cut and run.

But for the storm at the top of the ticket, the Texans might be smiling through this last month of the political season. The elections are almost here. Early voting in Texas starts in less than two weeks. Election day is less than four weeks away.

It’ll all be over soon. The Texas politicians — none of these guys are on the ballot this year — can lose themselves in the coming legislative session and, perhaps, find a little time to celebrate their various legal victories.

And they’ll have some time to assess Trump’s effect on the party and the state’s politics — whether they emerged victorious, whether this storm doused Texas with purple rain, whether their party is unified or split — and what it means for 2018.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • You know the unofficial rules: Nonvoters don't count. They're just noise. When politicians ignore them, nothing happens. As long as nobody stirs the majority of Texas adults who don’t vote, they are — politically speaking — a big fat nonfactor.

  • The Texas Ethics Commission regulates legislators. Legislators control the commission's laws and budget. It's a complicated relationship.
  • The state government has been stable for long enough that those in charge should get tagged with what that government is doing wrong.
The Texas Tribune Member Drive Fall 2021 banner

Support public-service journalism that’s always free to read.

Yes, I'll donate today