I bet you’d like to know what’s going to happen on March 4, when Texas finally gets to have a say in the presidential race. Beats the heck out of me. Over the past twelve months, I’ve been asserting, with arrogant certainty, that the November combatants would be Clinton and McCain, then Obama and Romney, then Clinton and Giuliani, and then … aw, who can say? This thing has traveled switchbacks more often than any election I’ve lived through. Thankfully, I’m not the only member of the chattering class who’s been routinely wrong—pundits, pollsters, and political consultants have amounted to an axis of feeble—but just as thankfully, my Texas Monthly mates and I have been able to reverse editorial calls made on the basis of fast-changing information.
Case in point: As recently as a few weeks ago, we assumed that Mike Huckabee’s momentum from the Iowa caucuses (not to mention John McCain’s catatonia) was reason enough to make the upstart Baptist preacher with all the Texas connections my interview for this pre-primary issue. I spent an hour on the phone with him, arranged to talk again before we shipped pages to the printer, and set a date and time for him to be photographed near Navasota at the ranch of his celebrity booster, Chuck Norris. Then he lost South Carolina to the suddenly reanimated McCain. (But not before comparing homosexuality to barnyard nooky, arguing for a merge-purge between the Bible and the Constitution, and threatening to shove a flagpole up the bum of anyone who opposed flying the Confederate flag. We may have been right all these years about Arkansas.) Well into our production cycle, we scotched the photo shoot and pulled the interview, and I raced to spend some time instead with McCain’s media adviser, Mark McKinnon, at his Austin office (see Texas Monthly Talks ).
McCain’s rebirth, which we could affirm or complicate in our primary, has interesting implications. The problems that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, James Dobson, and our own Tom DeLay (still playing rough in the sandbox) have with him suggest a rift among the Republicans nationally much like the one we’re seeing in Texas. Do the wingers control the party at the exclusion of moderates, or is it truly the fabled big tent? With no one named Bush on the ticket—a rarity these past three decades—statewide elected R’s have split among the various candidates, although none of them originally supported McCain, whom they believe to be an inauthentic conservative. Will they join Rick Perry and Susan Combs, both early Rudy Giuliani backers, on the late train? Or will Huckabee, the last man standing who can stop McCain, mount a Lazarus-like comeback of his own?
For the Democrats, Texas may very well be the ball game. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama emerged from Super Tuesday with big wins and bushels of delegates, but neither has the nomination locked up—not even close. So our primary, in fact, does matter (as does Ohio’s, the other big one on March 4). In a state where white male Democrats in high office are approaching endangered species status, it’s fitting, perhaps, that the choice is between the first woman and the first African American with a plausible claim on the Oval Office. For Obama, especially, the message of a victory here, where Hispanics make up so much of the population, would truly resonate, perhaps once and for all ending talk of a black-brown feud at the ballot box. More crucially, if a black candidate can find a majority of the votes in a state that’s home to Vidor, Jasper, and Linden—well, I’m thinking of what they once upon a time said about Rudy in the Bible Belt: If he can make it there, he can make it anywhere.
Of course, look what happened to him. What the legendary screenwriter William Goldman famously said of Hollywood nicely sums up our political situation: “Nobody knows anything.” But that’s about to change.
Tons of things to do with your kids, the origin of the universe, the Branch Davidian conflagration fifteen years later, a spirited defense of Roger Clemens, and the search for UFOs in Stephenville.