Elections are clarifying events. The 2010 cycle, for instance, confirmed that the Democratic party was no longer a force in Texas politics. The lesson of the 2012 primary, which will become clearer after the runoff elections on July 31, is even more dramatic than the death of the Democrats: the Republican party in Texas is in danger of breaking into factions as it moves inexorably to the right. Its candidates are increasingly representative of two types—call them insurgents and moderates, or ideologues and mainstream conservatives, or tea partiers and civic leaders. They coexist though they have nothing in common, and the future course of the party favors the insurgents.
The May 29 primary revealed itself to be, in part, an exercise in purification. One of the most significant aspects of the election was the increasing numbers of ideologically driven political operatives—former county chairs and staffers for high-profile politicians, for example—who were running for office against mainstream conservatives. And the results were decisive: seven incumbents knocked off, including three House committee chairs (with two others forced into runoffs).
Consider the battle for an open House seat in Fort Worth. The ideologues, led by the Young Conservatives of Texas, mounted an all-out attack against Susan Todd, a former nurse, a volunteer for such charities as the local food bank and the American Heart Association, and a past president of the Texas Medical Association Foundation. Her opponent Craig Goldman, a Washington lobbyist who had worked for U.S. senator Phil Gramm and Congressman Jeb Hensarling, immediately targeted Todd’s conservative credentials. Goldman’s supporters claimed she wasn’t a “real” Republican because she had voted in Democratic primaries over the years and criticized her for having supported Tony Sanchez for governor in 2002 (more precisely, the Texas Medical Association PAC backed Sanchez). Though Todd was a member of the Fort Worth Republican Women’s Club, the attacks worked, and Goldman beat her with 55 percent of the vote.
Other veteran leaders have been driven out of politics by, well, the politics. Addressing a meeting at Texas A&M in February, retiring Republican state senator Steve Ogden summed up the situation this way: “You’re electing people who tend to be very, very extremely conservative and very, very extremely liberal,” he said, “and the middle is getting left out in the cold.” In a nutshell, that is the problem facing the Republican party today. There is no middle, and the people on the extreme ends of the political spectrum don’t want one to exist.
The result is that, with each successive election cycle, the GOP becomes more and more the party of ideologues, who entered politics in the age of hyper-partisanship, and less and less the party of Main Street business leaders, who