Top Republicans in Texas are sounding the alarm about 2020, warning President Trump could lose the usually reliably red state unless he devotes resources and attention to it typically reserved for electoral battlegrounds.
Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey has delivered this message to the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, GOP donors, and activists in the state. Nationally, Republican operatives and donors have historically taken Texas for granted and directed their financial and organizational muscle to more competitive regions. Separately, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, up for re-election next year, has spoken with new RNC co-chairman Tommy Hicks, a Lone Star State native, about concerns that Trump could lose the state.
Along with other senior Texas Republicans, Dickey and Cornyn are moving to secure the money and grassroots support needed to withstand a feared Democratic surge statewide in 2020. If left unchecked, they are convinced Texas could turn blue in a presidential contest for the first time since 1976.
“We are talking to everyone,” Dickey told the Washington Examiner this month while attending the RNC’s annual winter business meeting in New Mexico. “The challenges we face in Texas are very real.”
Texas controls 38 votes in the Electoral College, a massive haul without which Trump would be unlikely to reach 270 and win a second term. Dependably Republican for decades, Texas nearly elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in the midterm elections. Last year, two traditionally GOP Texas seats in the House of Representatives flipped to the Democrats, and the GOP lost several swing seats in the state legislature.
Chris Homan, a veteran GOP operative in Texas who worked several 2018 contests, said Republicans suffered because Democrats were more energized, more organized, and better funded. Homan worries Republicans could be overwhelmed again in 2020, costing Trump the state and, possibly as a result, the White House.
“Because of what happened organically on the Democrat side, Republicans in Texas have a large organizational gap that exists. In 2018, we simply did not have the kind of people and activists at the scale the Democrats enjoyed. This is a significant advantage the Democrats have going into this cycle,” Homan said.
Some Republicans argue that the Democrats’ success in Texas in 2018 might have been a fluke.
First term presidents typically lose seats in Congress in midterm elections. And, in Texas, Democratic Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke boosted Democrats down ticket with a campaign that, while falling just short, spent more than $70 million on the ground. That’s a gargantuan sum unlikely to be equaled in a presidential election cycle with plenty of other states on the map where money goes farther than it does in Texas, where campaigning and running ads is expensive.
This is of little comfort to many Republicans.
The Trump campaign is monitoring developments in the state, prepared to raise the threat level. O’Rourke is a possible presidential candidate, and another Texan, former Cabinet official Julian Castro, announced his bid for the Democratic nomination a few weeks ago. If either were on the ticket, even as the running mate, Texas would automatically be in play, fret Republican operatives focused on 2020.
Texas, for years, has been taken for granted, so much so that teams of grassroots volunteers, known in the state as “strike forces,” deploy elsewhere. Texas’ wealthy Republican donors often do the same with their checkbooks. To avoid getting caught flatfooted, Cornyn is holding discussions with party officials at all levels, from the RNC to the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the party’s campaign arm in the Senate — to individual members of Texas’ GOP delegation in Congress.
“A lot of what it’s going to take is a unified effort,” Cornyn said. “If Texas turns back to a Democratic state, which it used to be, then we’ll never elect another Republican [president] in my lifetime.”