A nation that embraces a two party system often finds itself faced with a fractured electorate. It’s nearly impossible to contain such diverse views within two tents, and various factions form as a result. The rise of the GOP’s conservative base as personified by the Tea Party movement is indicative of this, and the same can be said of liberal dissatisfaction embodied in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
In Texas, a microcosm of this phenomenon on the right can be seen in the US Senate primary for Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s open seat. Sitting Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has largely been seen as the “default” winner given that he is in possession of the personal wealth necessary to self-fund and has the highest profile in the race. However, his complete disregard for the voters has become so pervasive an issue that it threatens to throw him into a downward spiral; and rightfully so.
In fact, polling has consistently demonstrated that grassroots conservative favorite Ted Cruz continues to close in on Dewhurst. A poll released by Public Policy Polling on January 17th shows that since the last time PPP polled the race in September, Cruz has gained 6 points while Dewhurst has fallen 5. Additionally, the President of PPP, Tom Jensen, makes a compelling point. Jensen said of the results:
“Here’s a finding that signals the potential of this race to get very interesting: Among those 29% familiar with Cruz, whether they like him or not, he leads Dewhurst 34-31. That speaks well to his ability to make things competitive once he becomes better known and really starts spending money.”
Relating directly to the aforementioned numbers, familiarity with Dewhurst makes it easy to discern that the more he interacts with the right-wing base, the higher his negatives grow. This largely explains, but certainly doesn’t excuse, the fact that Dewhurst responds almost exclusively by ignoring us – and the most high profile example of this behavior to date happened at the Texas Saddle Up straw poll event in Houston very recently. (An event, by the way, where Ted Cruz won the US Senate straw poll with 48% of the total vote).
According to Felicia Cravens, President of the Houston Tea Party Society and a co-organizer of the Saddle Up event at Minute Maid Park the weekend of January 14th-15th, Dewhurst simply didn’t show up despite a commitment made by his campaign. Per a conversation with a Saddle Up organizer, Dewhurst had been a confirmed speaker since December. He was on the agenda without any of his campaign representatives claiming otherwise. However, on the day of the event, Dewhurst was a no-show, without any notice to the organizers his representative had previously spoken with. As for her personal reaction, Felicia told me:
“All I wanted to see was each candidate making their case to me and the other attendees, unfiltered by gotcha questions and moderator spin. I’ve heard Dewhurst speak and wanted to hear more. Dewhurst missed an opportunity to make his case directly to a large coalition of tea party partners and Republican voters. Ultimately, I’m terribly angry that we gave him an unfiltered, straight-up opportunity to make his case, and it appears he didn’t think we were worth his time. That makes me believe he doesn’t think he needs to address crowds he doesn’t stack in his favor.”
While skipping out on a high profile conservative event put on by activists in his hometown that drew over 1,000 participants from across the state may seem like strange behavior from someone allegedly on the campaign trail, it’s actually par for the course with Dewhurst. In fact, not only is it typical conduct, it embodies everything detestable about establishment GOP politicians who see primaries as a formality and expect to be shuffled into the cozy position of their choice simply because of who they are. Dewhurst behaves as if he’s above speaking to voters because he’s the Lieutenant Governor and happens to be wealthy enough to fund his own campaign. He figures that with his built in name ID, the less voters see of him, the better he’ll do. And you know what? He’s right. But that doesn’t make it permissible.
Since this campaign got started, Dewhurst has been skipping all sorts of appearances. He finally decided to grace the voters of Texas with his presence amidst the other candidates in a debate I had the privilege of attending, which was hosted by Empower Texans during the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation on January 12th. But keep in mind, of course, that this was only after dodging 19 prior forums of a similar nature. Luckily for Texans (and Ted Cruz), this debate was televised – and the uninspiring, not-so-quick-on-his-feet Dewhurst was put on display for the world to see. There was many a bad moment for Mr. Dewhurst during the debate. Whether it was the awkward 5 second pause while wracking his brain for god-knows-what, or the time Cruz called him out for his past support of a state income tax by quoting Dewhurst’s words directly from a Wall Street Journal piece, the event was certainly not flattering for the Lieutenant Governor. Perhaps that’s why Dewhurst so rudely shrugged off his commitment to the 1,000+ Saddle Up Texas attendees a mere three days later.
Ultimately, what’s so frustrating about Dewhurst, and particularly his presence in a deep red state like Texas, is that the tea party was formed largely in response to politicians exactly like him – the type of entitled, often mind numbingly boring individuals who see voters as a nuisance – a mere hurdle to overcome in their quest for personal gain. So often, these establishment types cruise to victory due to either voter apathy, a lack of alternative, or a sad combination of both. One could say that Romney’s success in the presidential primaries thus far can be chalked up to the latter. While conservatives likely face a depressing prospect in the Romney area, we can still make a difference by focusing on electing conservatives to the House and Senate – especially in states like Texas.
And in this great state where I’m proud to reside, we do have exactly that kind of opportunity because we’ve been blessed by the presence of former Solicitor General Cruz in this primary – and we need to harness this rare chance to really make a difference. Anyone who frequents conservative events in Texas knows that Cruz is 100% dedicated to winning. This is a guy who manages to show up to everything, and is the last person in the room as things are winding down – talking for hours to voters on a face to face basis, making his case and genuinely engaging with the people he seeks to represent. Ted is the kind of guy who remembers you next time – not because he’s playing some kind of political game, but because he had a genuine conversation with you and values your opinion. Texas voters – don’t throw that away.
Endorsed by my three favorite Senators: Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint, Cruz is the kind of man the aforementioned conservative faction needs to push forward in their fight against big government in all of its forms. A man like Ted Cruz to bolster conservative cred in the Senate is needed now more than ever with voters likely facing a Romney vs. Obama choice in the presidential race. Sending Dewhurst, a man who literally embodies everything that’s wrong with the GOP establishment to the Senate, will be an embarrassment to Texas, because frankly, we can do better. Conservatives may soon be stuck with a moderate from Massachusetts as our presidential nominee – but let’s not forget about stacking Congress with solid men and women who will stand up to the Executive branch regardless of who is in power.
The GOP establishment has an entitlement mentality that must be challenged by conservatives at every opportunity. Often, we’re left with no recourse – but in this instance, we have a clear alternative to the status-quo-peddling Dewhurst. Like George Will, I happen to believe that Ted Cruz is “as good as it gets”.