Considering political analysts last week were predicting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton might win between 300 and 400 electoral votes — a decisive victory either way — one could sure understand some of the despair, dejection and even desperation at the McLennan County Republican Club luncheon Thursday. An uncharacteristic air of resignation hung over the large hall in a fiercely Republican stretch of Texas.
At one point, Congressman Bill Flores, speaking to a couple hundred, mostly graying folks in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum’s Knox Hall, wondered aloud how anyone could even get excited about the Democratic nominee, that the typical Clinton supporter is, after all, “just sort of ho-hum.” But Flores hadn’t witnessed the excitement that local Democrats exuded in their own gathering days earlier. They smelled national victory.
By contrast, Thursday’s Republican luncheon saw long faces amid gloomy prospects in an election once theirs to lose. They have had to hear talk of a once-great political party imploding in slow motion, way out of touch with millennials on social issues and in denial of fast-changing demographics.
When McLennan County Republican Party Chairman Jon Ker began talking up the GOP presidential nominee, he accidentally inserted the name “Bush,” then quickly corrected himself and cited Donald Trump. Understandable. The former name conjures happy times of when Republican George W. Bush served as president eight long years, maintained the Western White House at his ranch near Crawford and local folks proudly dubbed our area “Bush Country.”
That was before a virulent tea party movement and its scorching mix of purity tests and political extremism made Bush — by 2009 out of the White House — a co-conspirator of President Obama and the Democrats in all that’s wrong with government, even in Bush Country. It also caused the Republican Party to veer off in crazy directions that neither Bush nor his father would tolerate. Over time, this transformation paved the way for anarchic Republicans such as reality TV star and casino magnate Donald Trump to take over the party and lead it down a path out of step with much of the nation, even judging by Fox News polls.
“You just make mistakes now and then,” Ker quipped of his blooper of mixing up Bush with Trump. “Don’t throw tomatoes.”
Club President Wesley Lloyd, an attorney, did his best to keep spirits high. He wisely grasped the absurdity of running comical slides poking fun at Hillary Clinton, as he had to everyone’s amusement in months past. Instead he screened slides of Flores’ grandchildren and the congressman mixing with a Baylor mascot (both Flores and Lloyd are Aggies). And everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Helen Quiram, 83, that ever-gracious and ebullient incarnation of sunnier times and everything that was good about the Republican Party, including her beloved Ronald Reagan.
Moody Mayor Ken Brown injected some levity while touting his town’s Cotton Harvest Festival (including a hot dog-eating contest and a pet parade). He announced he had been shocked to see a Hillary Clinton sign in Moody. Only after the homeowner mowed his lawn did Brown realize the sign declared: “Hillary for Prison.”
“I knew you were lying,” Lloyd joked, “as soon as you said a Clinton supporter mowed his yard.”
But the mood turned somber when Rep. Flores said that the presidential election “doesn’t feel real good at this point,” 19 days from Election Day. While the House of Representatives would likely remain under Republican control, he said, the Senate was “absolutely in danger” of falling into Democratic hands. He acknowledged what few dared mention — this month’s damaging release of a tape on which the Republican presidential nominee in 2005 bragged in crude ways of kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women awed by his immense star power.
“When that tape came out with him on the bus, talking about women, that hurt us,” Flores said.
Then the congressman reminded party faithful of the issues at risk, the need to look past Trump’s failings and consider the bitter prospects of a Clinton presidency: “It’s not really so much about him, it’s about her.”
One Republican asked, almost in desperation, certainly in anger, what they could do about “media bias.” Indeed, even traditionally Republican newspapers, one after another, have refused to endorse Trump and instead embraced the opposition. (Ironically, a March 2016 analysis estimated that Trump received $2 billion in free publicity, including from 24-hour news networks such as Fox that simply leveled cameras on Trump at rallies and let him ramble on in boasts, demagogy and outrageous falsehoods that eclipsed even those of the Clintons.)
To their great credit, disheartened Republicans didn’t talk about their nominee’s latest destructive distraction — that the national election is rigged for Clinton. In fact, McLennan County Republican Women’s Club President Vicky Kendig, in a prayer, patriotically asked that the upcoming election “be fair and the will of the majority be honored.”
Given that at least one electoral “fix” — the age-old art of gerrymandering — will likely help Republicans retain control of the House, talk of rigged elections is probably best discouraged in GOP circles. Once Republicans battle through grief or rage at what appears to be a crushing defeat on Nov. 8, they would do well to reconsider just how badly they lost their way — not just in this election season but over several chaotic and confounding years.