Political scientists and politicians disagree vigorously on Texas’ future as a resolutely Republican state, not only because of fast-shifting demographics but the state’s exceedingly poor tradition of voting by at least some population groups. But the Republican Party of Texas does itself no favors in the long term by moving further and further to the extreme right through such narrow-minded, cruel acts as the State Republican Executive Committee’s vote last week to censure Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
Many past a certain age remember well President Ronald Reagan’s championing of the party’s “big tent” concept — that is, sustaining a political party tolerant enough to encompass a wide range of political ideologies and beliefs. As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, often reminds us during his occasional visits to the Tribune-Herald, thinking Republicans are wise to embrace Reagan’s principle about shared values: “He who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is not my enemy.”
So what then to make of the State Republican Executive Committee’s 44-19 vote censuring Speaker Straus, complete with the support of Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey and vice chair Amy Clark? The move strikes us as needless and mean-spirited, given that Straus last year announced his decision to leave his leadership post and House seat in 2019. Rather than quietly savor the victory and chart a way for right-wing zealots to take over House GOP leadership, some on the State Republican Executive Committee thought it a swell idea to kick Straus on his way out the door. Classy.
Straus’ crime? He led Republicans more center-right than is permitted by GOP radicals in charge of the party. Yet many Republicans agreed with Straus that such policies as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s so-called “bathroom bill” — written to restrict transgendered people to specific restrooms — were not worth all the trouble they posed for Texas. Business leaders across Texas vehemently opposed the bathroom legislation, which smacked of hate and bigotry. And hard evidence of hordes of transgendered people attacking women and children in public restrooms? Zilch.
In the end, many Texas House members, led by Speaker Straus, chose to remain loyal to Reagan’s principle of a pro-business party of various ideologies rather than giving in to the increasingly nefarious acts of social extremists fast transforming the Party of Reagan into the Party of Trump. Only in the Age of Trump could the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas vote to censure a departing Republican leader for not being radical enough, then audaciously urge all wings of the GOP to rally to defeat Democrats in the fall.
This newspaper has had some strong disagreements with Speaker Straus on issues, but he nonetheless impressed us through the years as a rational, decent, center-right consensus-builder who followed conservative icon Bill Buckley’s foremost credo of keeping the Republican Party free of extremists, kooks, bigots, anti-Semites and racists. The State Republican Executive Committee’s vote last week makes clear where its own sensibilities lie — and will only make the party more and more impossible for rational, decent Republicans with each passing election.