In 2018, there were signs of political change in Texas.
The voters' detestation of Ted Cruz, common among many Republicans and Independents, almost carried Beto O'Rourke to victory, with Cruz eventually slithering past him by a margin of 2.6 percent.
In the same 2018 election, the incumbent governor, Greg Abbott, was alone among the right wingers at he top of state government in winning an easy victory. His opponent was a relatively unknown candidate. The other main
characters in the GOP leadership had a much harder time. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who jerks every demagogic chain he can reach, beat a strong challenger, Mike Collier, by only 4.8 percent. A rematch is pending.
Attorney General Ken Paxton, best known for fighting indictments of himself and declaring holidays to honor right wing Supreme Court victories, also won, but only by 3.6 percent.
So, even though the inmates were still running the asylum, some of them were spending much more time looking over their shoulders. If Texas was not a true toss-up state in either 2018 or 2020, its redness was fading. It ranked 23rd out of 25 red states in the percentage of victory for Trump.
One lesson for the superintending inmates was that they needed new and increasingly outrageous tales to tell in order to maintain control. Typically, Donald Trump provided them. The Big Lie was the the Molotov cocktail he threw onto the embers; hyped or manufactured fears over transgender issues and critical race theory were additional accelerants. The November 2021 Democratic loss of the governorship in Virginia provided the first compelling evidence of what the new cauldron of lies and fears had wrought.
Otherwise the Trump effect had been waning. He carried Texas by 5.6 percent in 2020, more than double the margin of Cruz's 2018 victory, but ran behind other Republican candidates statewide. His victory margin was also 3.6 percent lower than it was in his 2016 Texas win over Hillary Clinton, when he had a much more comfortable 9.2 percent lead.
Incumbent senior Senator John Cornyn, who seems Churchillian after Uvalde when compared to Cruz, won by 9.6 percent in 2020, four percentage points ahead of Trump
One may wonder whether the composition of the Texas Legislature has shifted dramatically to the right since, say, 2017, thereby contributing to the current political mayhem in the state. Although it is possible that the individual Republicans who have come to the Lege since then are more hard right than their predecessors, the actual percentages of Republicans in both houses has actually declined since 2017. The 2017 House was 63 percent Republican; in 2021 that percentage was 55 percent. The Senate in 2017 was 65 percent in 2017 and 58 percent four years later.
What about changes in support for Biden and the Democrats between January 2021 and June 2022? The support nationwide has declined from 53 percent to the current 39 percent, and in some polls it is even in the low 30s.
During almost the same period in Texas, the support for the president has dropped from 45 percent in February 2021 to 37 percent in April 2022.
The national and state declines are not dramatically different. Dismal and harmful to Democratic hopes, are they responsible for the craziness in Texas? In the nation? In fact, the president's crashing poll numbers are a symptom, not the cause.
In tandem with the Big Lie, which has undermined the hard-earned legitimacy of the Biden administration, the Republicans have centered race and gender issues in a way to add their alleged cultural menace to the manufactured crisis of a "stolen election."
Not only was 2021 the year of the Big Lie, it was also the year when 150 pieces of anti-LGBTQ laws were passed by Republican legislators, a record now certain to be broken in 2022. The usual suspects in Texas--Abbott, Cruz, Patrick and Paxton--took special aim at transgender teens and their parents. In a February 2022 directive, Abbott ordered a state agency "to conduct child abuse investigations of parents who give medically necessary gender-affirming care to their transgender children. "
His "order" was as cruel as it was violative of personal privacy and parental rights. Among a disturbing array of terrible actions by Texas officials, this one may be the worst when it comes to pure malice.
Is it any surprise, then, that the Texas GOP State Convention in Houston became a gathering of the proud boys and girls of craziness? Dull-witted and duped by lies and conspiracy theories, these zealots decided that "there shouldn't be any special legal protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, and they oppose any criminal or civil penalties against people who oppose homosexuality."
No surprise--but an important question remains: Given that the most deranged inmates and their leaders are now running madly through the streets, will they convince a majority of other Texans to follow? Will the abrupt and unjustified repeal of Roe create more headwinds than help for Abbott, Patrick, Paxton, and Cruz? We will know much more in November. For now, it is evident that many Texans have indeed lost their minds. Let's hope that even more are at least keeping theirs open.