A 72-year-old Texas man is living out his dreams. For eight weeks, some of his friends are paying for him to travel rural Texas in a luxury bus. He gets private tours of museums and ballparks. He eats breakfast, lunch, and dinner at restaurants of his choice. A college baseball team helps the man, who hasn’t pitched in fifty years, have his “own field of dreams one more time.” He wears a pair of Roy Orbison’s sunglasses in Wink and sings with Waylon Jennings’s brother in Littlefield. Everywhere he goes, he bathes in the warm glow of nostalgia. The small towns take him back to a bygone era—the more innocent Texas of his youth, or of his imagination. The John Wayne memorabilia in a diner in Marlin reminds him of the “westerns of his childhood,” and he thrills to the Elvis collectibles at a restaurant in Gatesville. At every stop, he’s surrounded by like-minded people, many of them his age or older, many of them wearing American flag shirts, cowboy hats, or sheriff’s badges. It’s all very wholesome. The man has just one small favor to ask: Will you please vote for him in November to keep Texas from being destroyed by wacko, woke Democrats?
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s 131-stop tour of rural Texas, set to continue through late October, has a lot of folks scratching their heads. His stated goal—“to recognize, galvanize, and mobilize rural Texans to keep the Lone Star State red!”—makes perfect sense. Without rural Texans voting for Republicans in droves, the GOP juggernaut would be in jeopardy. Patrick needs folks from Dumas to Dime Box to show up en masse in November to make sure his Democratic opponent, Mike Collier, has no chance. But the way Patrick is going about his campaigning is odd.
Unlike Beto O’Rourke, who regularly turns out impressively large crowds in small towns and generally seems to be running an energetic (though uphill) race against Governor Greg Abbott, Patrick seems to be making little to no effort to rally large numbers of voters. He’s not widely advertising events in advance and his press availability is severely limited. Instead, he is on what the late Texas comedian Bill Hicks once called a “UFO tour”—Patrick too is appearing in small Southern towns in front of handfuls of locals. We know this because his own social media keeps telling us so. In tweets and videos, the lieutenant governor is shown day after day visiting with small groups of conservatives—mostly older, overwhelmingly white. In a state of 30 million people, Patrick is evidently content to meet with “several” conservatives at a time.
And that’s when he’s not simply sightseeing, or sampling pie, or interviewing a San Angelo bootmaker about how many people are involved in the making of a single pair of his boots. (Answer: 25!) Consider Patrick’s itinerary for September 12, when he starts his day by visiting an enormous roadside cross.
Then he takes a private tour of the home stadium of the Amarillo Sod Poodles. (Great name!)
Then he points at something at Palo Duro Canyon and offers some insightful travel advice: “I would highly recommend visiting if you get the chance.”
Then he ends the day at a steakhouse in Hereford, where he finally poses for photos with some Hispanic folks: the restaurant staff.
Patrick is also rolling out slick videos of his travels, including an occasional series that is for some reason called Treasures. Patrick provides the narration. It is crisp and corny—not surprising for a former drive-time radio talk-show host. In his latest Treasure, Patrick is seen visiting the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor baseball team, the Crusaders. He gives the young men a pep talk, which makes Matthew McConaughey’s pregame speeches to the Longhorns sound practically Shakespearean. “Don’t ever get down when you’ve had a bad day,” Patrick says. “Because bad days are going to happen.” Patrick definitely isn’t having a bad day. In exchange for his wisdom, the boys help the lieutenant governor relive his glory days on the mound. See Dan pitch, see Dan throw. “It was a dream come true for me to go back on a ball field,” he narrates. “I was hoping the radar gun would clock my speed at my age. No chance.”
Patrick has always been adept at optics. (He has managed, for example, to turn his antique Chevy pickup into a long-running prop that instantly symbolizes a certain brand of nostalgia.) But high production values aside, his Tour de Rural seems uncharacteristically anodyne. If you ask the Collier campaign—and I did—Patrick is desperately trying to shore up support among Republican local elected officials, particularly after Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and state senator Kel Seliger, both prominent Republicans, endorsed Collier in early September. The Patrick bus tour is lackluster, according to Team Collier, because Patrick hasn’t faced a truly competitive statewide race till now. “It’s an eventless, crowd-less tour in search of support across the state,” said Ali Zaidi, Collier’s campaign manager. He then added, “Bless his heart.”
That’s all quite plausible, but here’s another theory: Patrick is a statewide Republican in good standing with the base. Collier may be a seasoned campaigner, but he’s lost his two previous statewide races and every public poll shows him trailing Patrick by five to eleven percentage points. Besides, campaigning is hard work. If you’re gonna win anyway, why not make it a vacation? Or, as Patrick put it in one of his video montages, “We want to get votes, but we also want to get dessert.”