Yesterday I wrote a longer piece for the Texas Monthly website titled “Primary Lessons,” in which I offered my opinion on the state of the primary season. In case you missed it, I described the campaigns in one word: irrelevant. All of the action is on the Republican side, of course, and I lamented the quality of the candidates. And while I am hopeful that someone like George P. Bush has the potential to change the direction of the Republican party, I remain puzzled about the course of the Greg Abbott campaign.
The most important development in this election season has been Greg Abbott’s decision to run to the right—the hard right. He was certainly under no compulsion to do so. After all, he is the Republican governor-in-waiting who avoided a serious challenger in the primary, and that allows him to chart his own course. Abbott is in a position to vastly alter the future of his party by changing its tone and broadening its appeal after the Perry era. For example, he knows that the party desperately needs to attract Hispanic voters, yet he persists in pursuing voter ID laws. In doing so, he has joined other Texas politicians in their mad rush to the far right. And yet, Abbott is in grave danger of failing as a leader. It doesn’t take a political genius to know that the Republican party is running out of time and ideas, and that the future cycles will not be so certain. The concern for Abbott ought to be that the state party is verging on intellectual bankruptcy, desirous only of turning on those politicians who might actually want to do something. Abbott might wake up one day and find that he was the last Republican governor of Texas.
Will his tone change in the general election? The answer falls between “highly unlikely” and “no way on God’s green earth.” But I think that’s short-sided and unnecessary. Abbott has the chance to be a transformational figure for the Republicans and for the state, but that doesn’t seem to be what he is interested in.