If you haven’t heard, Donald Trump’s poll numbers aren’t so hot. Not only is he trailing Biden by a nearly double-digit margin nationally, but the picture isn’t much different in crucial swing states. The President’s polling has gotten so bad; there are even serious discussions being had about the prospects of the Democrats flipping Georgia and Texas.
While Georgia’s 16 electoral college points would be a pleasant surprise for Democrats, turning Texas blue could shift the balance of US politics for the foreseeable future.
The general makeup of the electoral college map has remained relatively consistent over the last two decades or so, with Florida usually deciding the Republican candidate’s fate. (Donald Trump opened up new pathways to victory by taking Pennsylvania and the Rust Belt in 2016, making Florida’s 29 electoral votes somewhat expendable, but it would have been tight without them.)
Texas’s 38 electoral vote haul, added to the DNC’s automatic wins in California (55) and New York (29), would give the Dems an almost insurmountable head start in the general election – and future elections, if the state flips for longer than it takes to remove Trump.
Throw in the Pacific Northwest, the New England area, and a few other small Democratic strongholds, and there’s barely any work to be done in the battleground states. For the Republicans to ever occupy the White House again, they’d basically need to win Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Failing in any one of the prominent swing states would mean another Democrat in office.
Still, the Democrats have been fantasizing about the day Texas turns blue again for quite some time. The last time the Lone Star State voted for a Democratic candidate was in 1980.
BetOnline Electoral College Markets
- Matchup Odds
- Republican to Win Texas-280
- Democrat to Win Texas+220
Trump carried the state in 2016, with only a nine-point margin of victory, the narrowest in nearly two decades. And Hillary Clinton never bothered campaigning there! For comparison, Mitt Romney won Texas by 16-points in 2012.
Democrats have been gradually taking control of Texas’s big cities since sweeping into power in Dallas in 2006. Though, it’s not the major population centers becoming more liberal. The most significant threat to Republicans is coming from the suburbs, long a conservative stronghold.
During the 2018 midterms, Democrats captured twelve Republican-held state House seats. Ted Cruz’s reelection over Beto O’Rourke was equally alarming. The incumbent won by fewer than three points, the worst performance for a GOP Senate candidate in thirty years.
Suddenly, Republicans feel the pressure of impending change in what’s historically been a seat of power. “The tectonic plates shifted in Texas in 2018,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican up for reelection in 2020.
Cornyn has been increasingly vocal about his fears concerning the direction the state is going. “If Texas turns back to a Democratic state, which it used to be, then we’ll never elect another Republican president in my lifetime,” he said. “In 2018, we got hammered not only in the urban areas but in the suburbs, too.”
How Texas Could Turn Blue
All the ingredients are there for Texas to flip for the Democrats; it’s just a matter of how soon.
Texas is undergoing demographic changes faster than anyplace else in America. California businesses and residents alike are relocating to the state in droves, Hispanics are poised to become the largest population group by 2022, and Texas Republicans in the suburbs – traditionally moderate voters – are turning on further right-wing conservatives like Donald Trump.
If the President’s abysmal poll numbers persist, 2020 could be the perfect time to strike. That said, it feels a bit premature. BetOnline’s oddsmakers currently have the Republican candidate listed as a –280 favorite, giving Trump (or a GOP replacement) a 73.68% implied probability of controlling the state.
Hispanic Texans On Pace to become the Largest Demographic
The explosive growth of Texas’s Hispanic population has always been at the heart of predictions that Democrats would someday rule the state once again.
They’re steadily outpacing their white counterparts, adding to the likelihood that Hispanic residents will make up a majority of the Lone Star State’s population by 2022 — according to recent population estimates released by the US Census Bureau.
Hispanics alone have contributed more than half of the state’s growth since 2010. Their population increased from 9.7 million in 2010 to 11.1 million in 2017, while the white population increased by just 458,000 over that same period.
However, not everyone is so sure the ongoing demographic shift will be reflected at the ballot box. Nate Cohn at the New Republic doesn’t buy the premise that Hispanic immigration will deliver Texas to the Democrats:
“About 1.4 million illegal immigrants live in Texas, but not all will become citizens. Only about half a million will, assuming the rate matches that of the 1986 immigration-reform bill. Of those, only 300,000 or so will turn out to vote—hardly making an impact.”
It’s also a bit presumptuous to assume Hispanic voters will automatically back the Democratic Party.
Historically, the state’s Latino population has been quite conservative. They may not support Donald Trump due to his inflammatory rhetoric towards immigrants since first announcing his presidential run. Still, there’s no reason to believe that those votes will be there for liberal candidates in the future.
If Joe Biden beats President Trump by the kind of margins we see in recent polling data, it’s hard to predict the direction Republican leaders will attempt to steer the party. We may witness Trump-style right-wing conservativism abandoned in favor of returning to the moderate GOP that’s dominated Texas for decades.
Hispanic voters played a crucial role in Bernie Sanders’s Democratic primary strategy, coming out in huge numbers in states like Nevada, California, and Texas. Chuck Rocha, a strategist for the campaign, invested significant resources to turning out the Latino vote in the year leading up to the primaries, while other campaigns ignored this increasingly valuable voting bloc.
However, Sanders’s Hispanic coalition does not appear to have the same enthusiasm for Joe Biden. Bernie may try to redirect his supporters to the Democratic nominee, but the Biden campaign has done precious little to win them over.
The former Vice President’s team has mostly focused on appealing to white, middle- and upper-class suburbanites – traditional centrist/moderates from both the Democrat and Republican parties. This focus on fiscally conservative neoliberalism may be mutually exclusive with earning the Hispanic vote.
The groups of mostly young Hispanic voters that Bernie Sanders drew to his cause responded to the Vermont Senator’s populist message, promising Medicare for All, stronger union rights, and a higher minimum wage. Biden may deliver on the $15 minimum wage but has all but told the party’s left-wing not to expect much else.
Although, — again, the multi-generational population of Hispanic Texans has been fairly conservative in the past. Maybe Biden’s brand of right-wing Democrat will find its following in the state after all.
California to Texas Migration
An equally concerning migration for Republicans is the mass exodus of Californians relocating to Texas. During the second Democratic debate, Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that “there’s a new battleground state: Texas, and it has 38 Electoral College votes.”
Beto’s confidence in a Texas within reach for the Democrats is rooted in the steady stream of liberals relocating to the state’s big cities and suburbs. Between 2007 and 2016 1-million California residents — 2.5% of the state’s population — left for another state.
Californians are fleeing their home state in response to the prohibitively high cost of housing. As a bonus, Texas doesn’t have a state tax, making the Lone Star State a significantly better deal for young and working-class families with dreams of homeownership.
“From the perspective of a young, upwardly mobile family, California is nearly impossible, unless you have rich parents, rob a bank, or get money from your firm going public,” said Joel Kotkin, a professor at Chapman University.
Texas has aggressively pursued out-of-state businesses, even running ads in other markets, encouraging corporations to move their operations down South. The state offers substantial tax incentives, low costs, and a central location with an advantageous time zone for dealing with both coasts.
The program has been immensely successful, bringing multitudes of jobs and investments to the state. Naturally, this migration of Californians has coincided with Texas’s most populated counties and congressional districts steadily shifting to blue.
Texan Republicans Have Moved Right
Despite its reputation as a super-conservative state, the Texas GOP was traditionally led by moderates like George W. Bush and Rick Perry. In his first terms, for example, Perry’s signed a bill that gave free in-state tuition to undocumented Texans.
The current crop of Republican leaders shares the right-wing ideologies of Donald Trump and the Tea Party. Some political strategists in the state think the hard push to the right is doomed to backfire.
Many moderate Republicans who were willing to give Trump a shot over the widely despised Hillary Clinton have grown disenfranchised with the current administration, especially over the last six months. This week, hundreds of officials from the George W. Bush administration launched 43 Alumni, a Republican-led super PAC dedicated to electing Joe Biden.
Bush hasn’t personally endorsed either candidate, but the close association with his name and administration may provide all the pull the group needs to capture the state’s moderate conservatives – particularly in the major metropolitan areas and suburbs.
Trump’s right-wing politics have improved GOP fortunes in rural America and small towns, which gave the Republican Party new life in 2016 by winning states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. But Texas’s growth isn’t coming from the rural areas.
Urban/suburban regions own a supermajority of the vote in Texas, and the gap’s only growing wider. Trump’s variety of conservatism doesn’t play as well in these areas.
At the rate things are changing in favor of the Democrats, a blue Texas led by a coalition of Republican and Democratic moderates hailing from the big cities is not so far-fetched.
Politics in a Blue Texas World
Texas finally turning blue after years of GOP dominance would be disastrous for Republicans in general elections. Even if Trump ultimately carries the state, if the margin is too close for comfort, or down-ballot GOP candidates continue losing Congressional seats to Democrats, conservatives will have some tough choices to make.
Do they continue to push the right-wing ideologies popularized by Trump and Tucker Carlson — restrictive on immigration, America-First foreign policy, and relatively populist economics? What if the ideologies that benefit the GOP throughout most of the country hurt them in Texas?
Republicans can’t afford to lose those 38 votes without a total overhaul of their electoral college “path to victory” strategies. Without Texas, they must keep control of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida to stay competitive.
If Biden wins in November, there will be loud calls from within the party to return to their moderate Republican roots. However, I’m not sure that’s the right move. We are watching the parties realign along economic lines.
College-educated voters in suburbs and large metropolitan cities are trending overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats. As income inequality, joblessness, and wage stagnation continue to plague rural and working-class regions, voters in those regions are responding to Nationalist populist messages. With the DNC moving right, there may not be a lane for Republicans who’d like to pivot back to the center.
If Texas is lost, they may need to double-down on the brand of conservativism espoused by Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson. Or perhaps they should rebuild an entirely new policy platform from scratch. Either way, the 2020 presidential election has enormous implications for the Republican Party.
Texas may not turn blue this time, but change is coming. If the GOP hasn’t prepared a new approach for when it does, we’re about to see a long streak of Democrats in the White House in the next decade or two.