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Matthew Dowd on Ted Cruz and Why The Political Parties Are Dinosaurs

ABC commentator talks about how to change the Texas political landscape.

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In the intimate setting of the Cactus Café at the University of Texas last week, I watched as filmmakers Paul Stekler and Miguel Alvarez discussed Postcards from the Great Divide, a PBS film series they made prior to the 2016 election that examined the sharp political split between the American people. Joining them on the stage at KUT’s Views and Brews was ABC political commentator Matthew Dowd, a pollster who once worked for conservative Democrats such as U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, and then went to work for Republican Governor George W. Bush to help him win the White House twice.

Matthew Dowd

Dowd, who has now declared himself independent of either party, admitted that he, like many prognosticators, was surprised by Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race of last year. Dowd said the election was not a victory for either the Republican or Democratic parties, but evidence of their failure. That prompted host Rebecca McInroy to tease Dowd about a Texas Tribune story saying Dowd might run as an independent next year against U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who failed to win the GOP presidential nomination last year. Dowd, visibly embarrassed, demurred that he was not taking any action toward that end.

The discussion prompted me to follow up with Dowd to talk about Texas politics and why he believes Cruz would be vulnerable to a re-election challenge.

This conversation has been edited for clarity. You can hear the entire discussion below.

R.G. Ratcliffe: During the election, as a joke, I got a T-shirt that said “Giant Meteor 2016, Just End It Already.” But you mentioned the other night that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were dead and didn’t know it yet. The meteor already has hit. Can you expand on that?

Matthew Dowd: What I was trying to say is the meteor already has hit, and they are dinosaurs. The two legacy parties are dinosaurs, both of which I worked for at one time. Their existence as it has been is about to go extinct. It may not be fully yet, but it’s about to go extinct. The cloud of dust is moving across. As dinosaurs they are about to go extinct, because, in my view, they don’t fit where the country is, where the state is, and where people want to go. The last place to be innovative in our country is politics and governance, and the two political parties have been dominate for over 100 years, 150 years and people want something else.

RGR: Does that come about in a restructuring of the current parties or does it come about with a new party?

MD: There’s two avenues of change happening. One is one organization or both organizations evolving on their own. I think that’s unlikely, because without pressure and in a system that rewards the binary choice that’s unlikely. The more likely, and it’s what’s happening in nearly every single innovation that’s occurred in the last fifty years, is that there is a movement of people who don’t want to be a part of either of those two organizations that begin to run as independents. It starts as people. It doesn’t start as a party. It starts as people starting to run outside of the system. Then eventually it forms into something, an organization, a confederacy, and maybe a party. Fundamentally, if you look at the cab industry, the hotel industry, the book industry, everything, normally change occurs because upstarts come into the marketplace and disrupt the system.

RGR: Over history we’ve had the Populist Party, the Progressive Party, Ross Perot’s Reform Party. They all start with a rush and then peter out.

MD: Here’s the mistake that has always been made in the independent or third-party movement in our country—it’s always been top down, or almost always top down. Somebody said I want to run this person as president, or I want to form this independent group out of Washington or somewhere else. That never works. It never works in democracy to impose democracy from the top down. It will grow from the grassroots and the bottom up.

RGR: Look at Texas, the Republican Party has had complete control of the state government since 2003. What would prompt change?

MD: It’s already being prompted. Texas is a political monopoly. It’s dominated by Republicans. In a monopoly there is inefficiency and sometimes corruption. We’re seeing inefficiency in the system, the inability of new ideas to come into the system because of the monopoly. What exists in Texas today is a huge group of disenfranchised voters. Those voters are one, Democrats, who hold no power and there’s no prospects of them holding power at a statewide level in Texas for years to come. There’s independents who don’t participate in either party’s primary because they don’t feel like they fit them. Then there’s a group of Republicans, I would guess around 25 percent or a third, who are Republican but don’t necessarily like the direction that some of the policies or some of the leadership has taken but they don’t have an avenue.

RGR: Tell me about the rumors that you might challenge the re-election of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz next year.

MD: It is a rumor. As you know, I was asked about this by another publication, and I told them a number of folks, friends of mine—as I’d been involved in politics in Texas on both sides of the aisle—both Democrats, Republicans, and independents have come to me and asked me if I would think about it or consider it because they know I’m an independent, and they know I’m frustrated at the system. They know I love the state and love politics and have ever since I was a teenager. So told them, as I told the Texas Tribune, I was going to give it some thought. I haven’t done anything, haven’t made a single move, having organized anything, haven’t formed a committee. But I said I would at least be thoughtful about it. I want to figure out what’s the best way to use my voice in a system to bring about change.

RGR: Why is Cruz vulnerable in a state like Texas?

MD: It’s timely for something new to arise in the state because of the monopoly. I think most voters in the state are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant, which doesn’t fit most of the Republicans in the state. Ted’s obviously not that way. When you look at Ted and his ersatz race for president, Texas really right now only has one United States senator. Ted had to spend more time outside of Texas campaigning in Iowa and giving speeches in Washington than has actually in doing things on behalf of the state.

One, I think it’s timely, even taking Ted out of the equation. But two, I think Ted has uniquely positioned himself as someone who has become part of the problem in Washington, where they have a lot of talk and not much action and aren’t humble servant leaders. So with that combination Ted is vulnerable.

There’s an opportunity for somebody to run him. But I do believe you can’t beat him with a Democrat. A Democrat can’t win because of the problems in the state with the Democratic brand and organization and all that, and it’s very difficult to beat Ted in the Republican primary. If there is an opportunity, the only opportunity is running as an independent.

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  • John Johnson

    Wow…I like both his observations and demeanor. Count me in that independent category. I have some progressive attitudes addressed by Bernie, yet still hold dear some aspects of the moderate Texan Republican group which Dowd made reference to.

    I hold the view that the Texas Republican Tea Party group is in decline. Cruz’s “failure to launch” was the catalyst. When longtime supporters started to abandon him during his presidential campaign, the rift and weakening began. It is still ongoing.

    I think that the attempt by Patrick and other Cruz acolytes like Burton, Stickland, Tinderholt and others in my area, to push radical agendas, like weakening city’s “home rule” abilities by moving more control to Austin, is not being accepted well by moderates who are holding most of the seats in city government.

    The TP, and Empower Texans, are champing at the bit to get more people into city elected positions. In Arlington, their candidate for city council was soundly defeated. She then led the charge to have our new ballpark bond package defeated, and this effort fell way short. All the local state reps, and Sen Burton, were glaringing absent during the ballpark debates leading up to voting day. They knew it would be political suicide for them to state that they wanted to move a city’s ability to issue bonds for special projects to the state legislature.

    Most major Texas cities have way too much of a debt load; Dallas, Houston and Austin have some of the highest per capita debts in the country.

    Arlington doesn’t. We are in great fiscal shape. We don’t want overreaching, unqualified, wannabe stars in Austin dictating to us what they think is best for us.

    This type of ill advised and unpopular agenda is going to catch up with them and possibly spawn the grassroots, middle of the road upheaval Dowd is referring to.

    • WUSRPH

      If you check on Austin’s debt load you will find that a good deal of it results from the fact that Austin is its own electric company and carries debt for that purpose. The amount is is not at all out of line with what a corporate power company would carry. But that equivalent of “corporate debt” makes the city’s debt load seem larger than it otherwise might if the city was not also its own utility.

      • John Bernard Books

        and Detroit’s or Houston’s debt load? You dems love tax payer debt….

      • John Johnson

        Good point that was not highlighted with a footnote in the article I read…and Arlington was not on the list of top heavies on this list, even though we have substantial bond debt, because our bond projects pay off early because out of towners service a large portion of our debt through spending here at the large venues we have built, and are going to build, and the ancillary business surrounding them. Our per capita debt is great compared to most cities our size. The Burton crowd can’t seem to grasp this.

  • José

    I would like to believe him but, come on, we have heard this kind of thing before and it doesn’t go far. The two parties have a lot of built in power, such as controlling the rules for getting candidates’ names on ballots and legislative redistributing. There are huge barriers to setting up a new party or ad hoc independent candidate. Whenever a grassroots movement gains enough heft they don’t waste their resources with all that administrative rigmarole but instead they take the easier route, which is to take over an existing party structure.

    • John Johnson

      Did you read all he wrote? There have been tries before to add a third, but they all started at the top…not at the bottom.

      And before, when too many conservative Dem’s and moderate Repub’s got too close and chummy with each other, an abortion or gay rights grenade got tossed into the middle by the radical fringes. Everyone scurried back to their respective foxholes.

      Some Dem’s, some Bernie Progressive’s,and many moderate Repub’s all joined to push Trump over the top. This group was impervious to abortion and gay rights being used to separate.

      We have never seen anything like Trump’s win…so why not quit saying “never” when it comes to how political parties might be created in the future?

      • WUSRPH

        “Some Dem’s, some Bernie Progressive’s,and many moderate Repub’s all joined to push Trump over the top. This group was impervious to abortion and gay rights being used to separate.”
        What election analyses have you seen that support this claim? I have yet to see any that are detailed enough to show that……but I could have missed them.

        • John Johnson

          No…pure speculation on my part based on the states Trump won that he was not supposed to. Don’t know how else to interpret it.

          • WUSRPH

            Some early numbers support part of your speculation…..Such as indications that a slightly higher %age of people who call themselves Democrats voted for Trump than the %age of GOPers who voted for Clinton….plus the fact that white lower income voters went for Trump where many had voted for Obama. But the role of Bernie supporters, etc. and the role or non-role of gays/abortions has not yet been shown by analyses. Of course, those are still underway. It may be next year before we get a more definitive picture.

        • Jed

          no “progressive’s” [sic] voted for trump. to suggest otherwise is to completely mangle the meaning of the word.

          trump’s vote totals were roughly in line with romney’s. clinton’s were down versus obama. and she still outpointed trump by 3M.

          the things that “pushed trump over the top” were the electoral college, the media, electioneering by the FBI, the GOP, and the USSR, and lazy or confused “independents.” this is not a story about “moderates” or “bernie” voters.

          • WUSRPH

            A few of them may have voted for Stein….but I agree that most could not bring themselves to vote for Trump no matter how misconceived there were about Hillary.

          • John Johnson

            Horseshit. Plenty of Bernie supporters voted for Trump. Just got off the phone with one. All of Bernie’s crowd were not the whining millennials that most associate with his name, and the progressive movement. My friend is 50 years old, and found Trump much more attractive than Hillary. He said he could never vote for her. “One was an ego maniac and the other a lying crook.”

      • BCinBCS

        And before, when too many conservative Dem’s and moderate Repub’s got too close and chummy with each other, an abortion or gay rights grenade got tossed into the middle by the radical fringes. Everyone scurried back to their respective foxholes.

        Spot on.

      • pwt7925

        Grammar police alert. Look up the rules the proper use of apostrophes. The proper use does not include using apostrophes in plural nouns.

  • WUSRPH

    There are probably a good number of us who, being fiscal conservatives/social liberals, would be interested in a true independent candidacy, but the odds may just to great. I suspect Matthew has done very well for himself since the old BB days, but I doubt he has either the funds personally or the ability to tap others for the necessary mulita-millions such an effort would take. In theory, Jose’s idea of taking over an existing structure as an outsider candidate—such as Trump or Jimmy Carter might be easier, but there have to be special circumstances such as their were in 2016 and in 1976 to open the door to such a candidacy. I don’t see that now…however, much is going to depend on how well (or how badly) Trump does. But, it’s still something worth thinking about.

    • José

      Our current two party system seems to push us to extremes. Maybe it’s because of party primaries, where a small but enthusiastic minority shows up and makes the decisions. The jungle primary systems were supposed to fix that but so far they haven’t. Maybe with time. My own personal favorite idea is using approval voting for elections. It would help to break us out of the “lesser of two evils” trap and get us back to ideal of voting FOR candidates instead of AGAINST them.

      Two other ideas are still being pushed, nonpartisan redistricting and campaign finance reform with some sort of public funding.

      • WUSRPH

        You still have the problem that, in a state like Texas without initiative or referendum, the only way your could get the kinds of reforms you seek such as nonpartisan redistricting and public financing would be if the Legislature passed it…And that ain’t going to happen.

        • Not how things currently are, no. But if enough centrist independents were elected to make it so neither party had a majority in the state legislatures there, then it would happen.

      • Solomon Kleinsmith

        No electoral system can solve the problem of a fundamentally broken, and thoroughly corrupt, political landscape. The fact of the matter is, the problem will continue to get worse, and greater or lesser evil parties and candidates will continue to dominate, until an organized opposition comes together with at least a fraction of the resources and organizational know-how that the two major parties bring to bear each election cycle.

  • WUSRPH

    According to The Economist, Political hacking to “influence” an election has even gotten down to trying to stuff the ballot box on an internet contest for whom Trump should nominate to the SCOTUS.

    “America’s Supreme Court: Fantasy justice

    Donald Trump said today he will name his pick to fill the
    Supreme Court’s vacancy next week. What might he do? One website offers a
    crowd-sourced prediction market of sorts, offering a menu of potential
    justices, on which visitors can vote. But the whole thing may be rigged:
    botnets routing traffic through Asia have been skewing the votes. It remains
    a mystery who might care enough to want to influence a prediction site such as this”

    We soon will be unable to trust anything.

  • Michael Dowd

    Done deal. Donald Trump is an independent and in the process of forming an Independent party with a focus on working people and conservative values. Donald Trump is the Blue Dog Democrat of our time now known as Independents.

  • WUSRPH

    Speaking of my prediction skills:

    Trump is now calling for a major investigation of illegal voting….

    Funny that I was predicting that back in November:

    From Nov. 27:
    “With Trump now claiming that “millions of illegal aliens” voted for Hillary—with no proof of course other than
    Alex Jones’ mouth–you can bet money on my suggestion of the other day that the GOP in Texas and nationwide will be doing all it can in the coming years to restrict voting. (See my post from earlier this week)…Since the federal government can set conditions on who gets to vote in federal elections (all other election are up to the states) I would almost be willing to bet that they will try to pass a FEDERAL LAW requiring proof of citizenship to vote for federal offices. I am sure that the Texas GOP will try to do it for Texas elections.”

    “Great quote from the Huffington-Post’s article about Trump now claiming he won the popular vote,
    too, because 3 million illegals votes for Hillary…He got that number from Alex Jones.

    “Now it seems that Trump won’t even fully accept the results of the election even though he won it.”

    • WUSRPH

      It is interesting to note that when his campaign tried to block Stein’s recount motions in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania Trump’s lawyers specifically argued that there was no fraud in the 2016 elections…..If what Trump is saying is true (sic), that would make what his lawyers claimed a lie….but then I guess lawyers are allowed to deviate from the truth in making their arguments.

    • José

      It’s not just that Trump is dishonest, or perhaps delusional. The really strange thing is that he’s flat out stupid for making a stink and thereby keeping it a subject of discussion.

      Compare to the 2000 election. Bush lost the popular vote (basically a tie but still) and win the electoral vote and the presidency by a fluke. As soon as victory was assured his team shut up and left well enough alone. Instead they set out to implement their agenda. It was a horrible agenda, and a few months later turned out even worse than we thought, but these people knew what they were doing. If Trump was half as competent as he claims he would have done likewise. Instead he is wasting precious time and staff resources to fight a battle that serves only one insignificant purpose, to feed his fragile ego.

  • John Bernard Books

    Making the Dow great again…
    “The Dow Jones Industrial Average just powered through the 20000 level for the first time ever, setting an all-time intraday high three trading days after the inauguration of Donald Trump. Moments after the open, the Dow shot up to 20033.77.”
    http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2017/01/25/dow-hits-20000-for-first-time/

  • WUSRPH

    It sure seems funny that Abbott is now threatening to remove from office those who fail. to obey a Federal rule when he is always attacking the feds for telling us what to do.

  • WUSRPH

    What is this report about Trump’s White House aides using private web servers? I thought that was a NO-NO.

  • John Bernard Books

    Trump vs Soros
    “The 86-year-old investor lost about $1 billion by betting against the market after the election of U.S. President Donald Trump,”
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-26/dutch-regulator-accidentally-posted-soros-s-short-positions

    “Club For Growth founder Stephen Moore reacted to reporting that since President Trump was elected, the stock market gained $2 trillion in wealth.”
    http://insider.foxnews.com/2017/01/25/stock-market-gains-2-trillion-trump-elected-steve-moore

    Looters losing and Americans winning with Prez Trump

  • John Bernard Books

    Dems hold lessons on how to talk to people…
    “Democrats did not allow reporters to attend.”
    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/democrats-real-people-lessons-234198

    Since Jan 20th it has not been much fun for my dem friends….

  • WUSRPH

    Now that Trump has insulted Mexico and the Mexican President has cancelled their scheduled meeting what is next? The withdrawal of ambassadors? Trump probably can’t understand why the Mexican President
    now says he won’t come……After all, he’s just the head of a little two-bit nation (our largest trading partner). Who does he think he is? He ought to slink into DC and beg for forgiveness.

  • WUSRPH

    Someone needs to explain to Trump that it will be us not Mexicans paying his 20% tax on imports from Mexico.

    • BCinBCS

      Exactly. Increase taxes on an item, that item will cost more to purchase.
      Put an import tax on an item coming from Mexico to the U.S. and the U.S. citizens purchasing that item will pay the increased price due to the tax.
      Brilliant Comrade Trump, your business acumen astounds me.
      You are certainly sticking it to Mexico. /s

  • WUSRPH

    Could someone with a little more understanding of basic economics than I was able to pick up with one semester of “Introduction to Economics” 51 years ago and from readings and life and work experience tell me
    just how the Mexicans are going to pay for THE WALL if we fund it with a 20% tax on imports from Mexico. I admit that I—as previously noted—have a limited amount of knowledge of the workings of the economy….but
    as I’ve always understood it, a tax on imports would be paid by the American firms importing the goods and then, sure as daises grow in the spring, would be passed thru to the American consumer. To me this means that US Citizens, not Mexicans, would be paying for THE WALL. Please correct my ignorance and explain how I am wrong.

    I can understand how Trump’s mouthpiece could not understand how this works….but, with Trump claiming to be such a great businessman, you’d think he would understand it. Maybe he does since, as he tells us all the
    time, he’s a really smart guy. But it is beyond my limited understanding.

    During the campaign Trump said he would make the Mexicans—or at least Mexican citizens living in the US or American citizens with relatives in Mexico—pay for THE WALL in at least an indirect way by either seizing or
    taxing the remittances they send to their families. That would at least mean that a few Mexicans would be paying at least some of the cost of THE WALL, but he has not said anything about it since then.

    Of course, this 20% tax might be another Trump idea that is quietly forgotten….In fact, they were backing away from it within hours after I was announced as being “THE WAY” to make Mexico pay for THE WALL. By nightfall it was just “one of options being considered”. On the other hand, they might be serious…with Trump you
    never know.

    • WUSRPH

      I figured it out…..

      What Trump will do is ban all imports from Mexico UNLESSS their manufacturer pays us a fee equal to 20% of the value. Then he will implement a policy that forbids the importer from raising the price of the goods (or something produced from or with the goods as a part, etc., etc., etc.) above that charged on January 20, 2016. That will keep an American company that makes parts in Mexico and assembles the final product here from getting back the fee it paid by raising the price of the goods it sells here. All you will need is a way to figure out what the price the Mexicans charged on January 20, 2016, and the
      price charged in the US on the same day…. Of course, if the company in the U.S. does not charge its Mexican subsidiary for the parts, etc. you will have to figure out the value of the parts as part of the finished product and base your fee on that. See how simple it is. And it also uses that all important date of January 20, 2016, which I understand will soon be a national holiday replacing MLK Day.

      What do you think should I apply for a job on Trump’s economic advisory group?

      • BCinBCS

        Don’t know about the job as an economic advisor but, if I were you, I certainly wouldn’t take a job working for a company importing goods from Mexico. If your Rube Goldberg price control scheme was actually implemented, you know perfectly well that the price of the import tax would be made up by lowering the wages of the import company employees.

        (Still waiting on that e-mail.)

        • WUSRPH

          I have not gotten yours…..lost you address when my old computer blew up.

        • WUSRPH

          My Rube Goldberg scheme is to show how stupid the idea is…..however, according to the Washington Post the GOP is considering an import e tax on all imports and not taxing exports. It would finance their tax cut scheme (and maybe THE WALL)… They will claim that not taxing exports will offset the inflationary affect of the import tax, but serious analysts suggest that it will result in at least a 3% rise in prices paid by Americans on everything from lettuce to I-Phones. The idea is to discourage imports and encourage exports, but it is the consumer who, as always, winds up paying for it.

  • donuthin2

    And if you assume the wall works (bad assumption) who will the highway contractors get to lay all of that rebar in the highways construction projects?

  • Amanda Carter

    Dowd – please run against Cruz.