I have to disagree with those Republicans who are calling for David Dewhurst and Dan Branch to cede victory to Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton in their bids to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and attorney general respectively. I also have to disagree with my colleague Burka, below, who thinks that both Dewhurst and Branch should give up because the writing’s on the wall.
As a practical matter, it’s not the case that the runner-up is bound to lose the runoff. If that were the case Dewhurst, rather than Ted Cruz, would be in the United States Senate right now. Dewhurst, that is, won the Senate primary; he actually won more votes, in May 2012, than either Patrick or Paxton did last week. He nonetheless went on to lose the runoff, obviously.
It’s true that there were several unusual factors in the 2012 Republican Senate runoff that are not necessarily relevant this time around. The main one is that polling had found Cruz on a steady and discernable upward trajectory throughout the course of the campaign; he hadn’t overtaken Dewhurst by primary night, but it was plausible, at that point, that he would do so by July. The opposite is true here: both Dewhurst and Branch underperformed, suggesting declining popularity.
A lot can change in a couple of months, though. We saw that happen in 2012. As I argued in my profile of Cruz, he clearly had a lucky break in June 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld the bulk of the Affordable Care Act, which was (and remains) almost universally unpopular among Republicans. Cruz also benefited from the fact that as voters started to focus on the runoff, they found him to be an unusually impressive candidate.
That is unlikely to happen this time around; it’s no insult to Patrick or Paxton (or Dewhurst or Branch) to say that none of them has as much political talent as Cruz, who is a genuine outlier in that regard. Still, it’s hardly inconceivable that Patrick or Paxton could stumble, or that Dewhurst or Branch could post a stronger showing. Regardless, I hardly see the harm in either of them trying. A group of 14 legislators who are calling on Branch to drop out are warning that with Democratic outfits like Battleground Texas trying to turn the state blue, Republicans can’t afford the in-fighting and need to unite behind the gubernatorial nominee, Greg Abbott. By that logic, Republicans shouldn’t have primaries at all. And I’m really not sure why any Republican in Texas would be worried about Battleground Texas right now. Despite all the fanfare about the pending Democratic resurgence in Texas, there were fewer votes cast in the Democratic primary this year than there were in 2010. Republicans may be vulnerable, but Democrats are hardly poised to capitalize on it. And incidentally, Republicans are united behind Abbott. He won his primary with more than 90% of the vote.
More generally, there’s something off-putting about the argument that Dewhurst or Branch “should” drop out for the sake of party unity. That’s not how this game is played. There are about 13 million registered voters in Texas, and only about 10% of them voted in the Republican primary last week, despite several high profile open seats, and despite the fact that the winner of the Republican primary is likely to win the office outright. Both Patrick and Paxton came up measurably short of the 50% threshold. The two of them put together got fewer votes than Greg Abbott did in the gubernatorial primary. Republicans who support Patrick and Paxton might be right that both will go on to win their runoffs. It’s hardly unreasonable to ask them to prove it.
(Image via Associated Press)