Amazing. Historic. Defining. Pick your own adjective. The Republican tsunami that rolled through Texas on November 2 profoundly altered the state’s political landscape. After losing 22 seats in the House of Representatives, the Democratic party will not be a factor in Texas politics for a decade, at least. Not that it has been much of a factor for the past decade. This was not just a defeat; it was an annihilation bordering on political genocide.
Like all dramatic, world-changing events, it has spawned a number of story lines. One is the political genius of Rick Perry, whom Democrats must have surely learned, once and for all, never to underestimate. Perry’s machine runs so ruthlessly and smoothly that at his election-night victory celebration he was selling advance copies of his new book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington, the tour for which started immediately and serves as his first volley in a now-inevitable national campaign. Perry played the electorate like a harp. By the time early voting began, he had worked Republicans into an anti-Obama frenzy. He didn’t just criticize Obama. He took him on personally. He ran a TV spot that appeared to show him confronting—dissing—the president face to face. His attorney general sued the Department of Health and Human Services (over the health care bill), the Environmental Protection Agency (over permitting), and the Department of Education (over discriminatory treatment in funding) and filed an amicus brief opposing the Justice Department’s attempt to void the Arizona immigration law. In so doing, Perry and his allies gave new life to constitutional issues that have long lain dormant in American politics: states’ rights and the meaning of the Tenth Amendment. Presidential elections have been won on less.
Another story line is the sorry state of the Democratic party. For the Democrats, this election was a catastrophe. After a renewal of hope in the middle of the decade, their brand once again lies in wreckage. Their party’s titular leadership is impotent, and its legislative floor leader, Jim Dunnam, was defeated for reelection. Their ticket for statewide offices other than governor was a pathetic list of has-beens