A Good Night for Texas Conservatives; a Bad Night for Grifters

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 5 2014 9:06 AM

A Good Night for Texas Conservatives; a Bad Night for Grifters

I'm wrapping up a piece about Texas' fascinating March 4 primaries, and in reading what other reporters have come up with I think the conservative movement's getting short shrift. Yes, by all means, the marquee races for Senate and the 32nd Congressional District went for "the establishment." There are reasons for that, and the media saw it coming. I mean, a Cornyn "challenger" named Chris Mapp got a day of national coverage for calling Hispanics "wetbacks." He went on to win less than 2 percent of the vote. 

But look down the ballot.

- Last month I'd noted how Ken Paxton, a right-wing candidate for attorney general, was basing his entire campaign on the affection of Ted Cruz. Paxton's statewide TV ad featured Cruzwho had not actually endorsed him—speaking his praises at an event. The GOP establishment preferred state Rep. Dan Branch to Paxton. There have been only two modern Republican attorneys general of Texas, John Cornyn and Greg Abbott. Neither of them was a firebrand; both were seen as leaders of the conservative pack of state AGs. Branch fit snugly in the Cornyn/Abbott/Chamber of Commerce mold.

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He got clobbered. Paxton won the first round last night, 44–34 over Branch, the rest of the vote going to an even more conservative candidate. Since no candidate got 50 percent of the vote, both head to a May runoff. Branch starts it in the hole.

- Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had no real enemies to the right until 2012. That was the year he ran for Senate, expecting to spend big and win easy. It didn't work—Ted Cruz beat him. Dewhurst suddenly looked weak, and (gasp) moderate. Ambitious conservatives jumped into his race, and they humiliated him, with radio mogul and state Sen. Dan Patrick leading him 42–28. Look again: The incumbent lieutenant governor, the guy who tried to gavel in the state's abortion law over Wendy Davis' filibuster, barely got a quarter of the vote. Dewhurst enters the runoff with his car on cinder blocks.

- When Sen. Rand Paul visited Texas last month, he made a couple of buzzy speeches about the national GOP and a less-newsy endorsement in the Dallas suburbs. Don Huffines, a supporter of Paul, was running against a longtime GOP state senator. Paul endorsed him, and hung around long enough to appear in a photo with the candidate and Glenn Beck.

- Katrina Pierson's race in TX-32 baffled some Tea Party activists. Yes, she was a charismatic leader; yes, she worked to elect Ted Cruz. But she got in late and raised little money. The better grassroots cause, they argued, was Konni Burton's campaign for a state Senate seat. These activists were right: Burton won the first round of her primary 43–35, and has a good shot at winning the runoff.

Oh, and George P. Bush won the primary for land commissioner with nearly three-quarters of the vote. Not a "conservative victory" per se, just one that gives the party a credible 2024 presidential candidate.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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