Oct 1, 2019

Texas Republicans admit there's a problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The retirement of six House Republicans from Texas at the end of this term shows their pessimism about winning back the House majority in 2020, GOP strategists tell Axios — and foreshadows bigger Republican fears in the nation's second most populous state.

The big picture: The GOP recognizes they can no longer ignore their Democratic opponents and count on coasting to re-election in this previously-reliable red state.

  • Mac Thornberry, who announced Monday he's not running for re-election, is different from the others because his retirement was expected, per the Texas Tribune.
  • Still, the six-pack of GOP retirements in one cycle is hard to ignore.
  • "We need a new Republican Party because the one we have is getting our asses kicked in House races," one Texas GOP strategist, who works with various campaigns and asked to speak anonymously to be candid, told Axios.
  • President Trump will rally in Dallas on Oct. 17 to celebrate "the good news of the Trump economy" and "vast" accomplishments, his campaign announced Monday night.

The backstory: The 2018 midterms spooked Texas Republicans after they lost two congressional seats, saw closer-than-expected margins in a number of other races, and watched Beto O'Rourke surf a blue wave built in part on the state's shifting demographics.

Democrats are giddy at the fact that a GOP super PAC is trying to raise $10 million to register 1 million Republican voters in the state. "Republicans' answer so often is just to throw money at it," said Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

  • "It sucks being in the minority, and a lot of these guys haven't been in the minority since '06, and they are fearful there isn't a lot of hope to get the majority back in this cycle,” said Jeff Roe, a Republican political consultant who's worked with Sen. Ted Cruz.
  • But, but, but: "It's the best Republican seat in the country," Roe said of Thornberry's district. "This isn’t a Democrat seat."

What they're saying: At the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin last week and in conversations this week, here's what Texas Republicans are telling us:

  • "Texodus" has entered their lexicon — a term Democrats coined to describe the subsequent retirements of the state's GOP House members.
  • Many "headwinds" are working against them, most notably shifting demographics and attitudes of suburban voters.
  • They talk openly about perceptions the party is run by a bunch of old white guys— and they're desperate to change that. "The base is shrinking. Period. End of story," said Rep. Will Hurd, the only black House Republican, who at 42 will leave office rather seek another term representing his heavily Hispanic district in southwest Texas.
  • Hurd said Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota are two members trying to make the party more diverse and inclusive.

"We weren’t doing our homework," said GOP consultant Susan Lilly, during a festival panel called "The Republican do-over" in Austin. "Some members forgot about doing town hall meetings.” But she said her clients — including Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas' 10th district — "have woken up" now.

What to watch: Another Texas Republican strategist said to watch McCaul for another potential retirement. If he goes, he would be the 7th of the state's 23 House Republicans to retire at the end of this term.

The bottom line: It's truly a sign of the times that Democrats think Texas in 2020 could mimic California in 2018 — where the party picked up 7 GOP seats and helped Dems win back the House.

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