One thing is abundantly clear from Texas Democrats’ abysmal election night: the bench of viable statewide candidates is extremely thin. Beto O’Rourke, the best-known and most popular Democrat in the state, lost his 2022 race by eight more points than he lost his 2018 effort, effectively ending his ability to raise hopes (or money), even if he does want to spend another year campaigning across the state. A handful of youngish Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation—headlined by Joaquin Castro, and including Dallas congressman Colin Allred and newly elected Austinite Greg Casar—are likely to enjoy infinitely more productive and successful political careers in the House of Representatives than they will pursuing statewide offices that have been in GOP hands since before most of them could vote.
Beyond them, there’s Castro’s twin brother, Julián—but he’s spent the past decade declining to run for statewide office since being all but anointed by national Democrats as the keynote speaker at the party’s 2012 convention, opting not to run for Senate or governor despite six (!!) opportunities to do so in the time since he left the San Antonio mayor’s office. In 2020, Castro took one look at the Texas electorate and decided he would be better served by a long-shot bid for the presidency instead. (He withdrew before the first primary.) And the list of candidates who haven’t already been rejected by voters by a wide margin really doesn’t go much deeper than that. In 2024, Democrats will need to find a credible challenger to take on Senator Ted Cruz—but it’s hard to imagine who among the party’s current slate of officials might possess a realistic chance of doing so.
Accordingly, we have this piece of advice for Texas Democrats looking to find their way out of the wilderness after decades: it’s time to send in the celebrities. Your party has been out of power for so long that there haven’t been opportunities for anyone to climb a ladder that’s only a couple of rungs high, and—with all due respect to the dedicated public servants in the state legislature or in city government—it’s hard to imagine any of the marginalized Democrats in the state succeeding where O’Rourke, with his national celebrity and access to endless fund-raising dollars, failed.
Candidates who built their names outside of politics, meanwhile, are more viable than ever. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville is a United States senator! Author–slash–venture capitalist–slash–pundit J. D. Vance is a senator-elect, and former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL running back Herschel Walker is in a runoff election for the same job against one of the Democratic party’s brightest stars. The days when nominating a celebrity for political office seemed like absurd, lazy, unserious hackwork have passed—since 2016, at least, it’s been clear that it is instead absurd, lazy, and extremely serious hackwork. Republicans have been successful with this strategy, but Democrats have largely avoided it.
In other states, that might be a reasonable strategy—nominating a John Fetterman type makes more sense for the long-term viability of the Pennsylvania Democratic party than picking, say, a random former Philadelphia Eagle. But in Texas, there’s literally nothing left to lose. So let’s run down the list of potential candidates.
The Truly Absurd
Queen Bey does nothing that could potentially diminish her brand. Running a race she might lose would be a real blow to the Beyoncé prestige. Like Castro, she’d have a better chance running for president. And she’d probably win.
Megan Thee Stallion
The Houston rapper has demonstrated her civic-mindedness in a number of ways, most recently a website of mental health resources she launched to coincide with her most recent album. On the other hand, she’s also 27 years old and at the absolute height of her creative powers and cultural relevance, and attempting to run for office would derail all of her momentum, even if she were to win. Maybe in ten years.
On the one hand: the Longhorns football legend (who now goes by Errick Miron) is an unusual dude who has done unexpected things in the past, such as retiring from the NFL at the top of his career to become a massage therapist, only to return after a short break and play running back until his mid-thirties. We have a sense of his political priorities (weed is legal in Ricky’s Texas, baby), and there are a bunch of UT fans in Texas who wept when he won the Heisman, so he might have a broader constituency in the state than the average marijuana entrepreneur. On the other hand: Williams is definitely more of a Marianne Williamson–style candidate, and that’s not historically been a winner for Democrats, here or elsewhere, so they might as well just nominate a state senator or something.
Not Sure They’re Democrats, But Why Not
As a rich man who had been a reality TV host, Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban was frequently asked if he had presidential ambitions during the Trump era. He often gave a qualified “no” as a response, offering a “ten percent chance” that he might run in 2020, declaring that he’d only run in 2024 for one reason (“if I thought I was the right person” for the job), and vowing that Americans need to “disaffiliate with any party,” which probably makes him an unlikely Democratic candidate for, say, governor of Texas. But also: Texas Dems are desperate, and given that even the party’s biggest stars in the state can’t win an election, it might make sense to just sit one out and let Cuban run for something as an unopposed independent.
McConaughey spent several months in 2021 teasing the idea of a gubernatorial run, before releasing a dopey video declaring that he would not be pursuing one at this time. Could he reconsider in four years? Absolutely. He could consider and reconsider every ten minutes for the rest of his life, man, and then consider his reconsiderations until they’d all been conned and siddered and reconned and residdered. He’s a weird dude who enjoys attention, is what we’re saying, and a part of him clearly wants to do this. Is he a Democrat? It’s unclear! But running tried and true Democrats for Texas governor has failed many times, so this might be a case in which you just accept that a Texas Democrat is whatever McConaughey says it is.
The podcast host with an enormous audience who moved to Texas from California during the COVID-19 pandemic is not a Democrat, and Democrats generally despise him. He also insists that he’s not a Republican, though—over the summer, Rogan described himself as a “bleeding-heart liberal” who is “so far away from being a Republican,” even though he urged his listeners to vote for the GOP in this week’s election. (He’s also flirted with endorsing Florida governor Ron DeSantis, should he run for president.) Whatever he is, though, Rogan is a political oddball, and the last time Texas Democrats came within ten points of unseating a Republican governor, it was with the help of another political oddball—in that case, Kinky Friedman, in his 2006 independent campaign. Rogan is more influential and famous than Friedman ever was, and more of a viable political force. Running for governor of Texas as a Democrat would be a curious move for Rogan, but if he’s at all interested in pursuing higher office, the lane as a Democrat in Texas is certainly less crowded than attempting to navigate a GOP primary. Plus, it would own the heck out of the libs, which does seem to be a motivating factor in Rogan’s decision-making.
The Actually Viable
The former Desperate Housewives star and Corpus Christi native is a traditional Democrat who has become a political power player in recent years, recruiting and fund-raising for candidates both in Texas and nationally. She’s close with the Castro brothers—she developed a never-completed television series based on the family’s story—and didn’t rule out a future run for office when asked in 2020. She’s smart as heck (she earned her master’s degree in Chicano studies while simultaneously starring on Housewives). She’d be a massive fund-raiser. She’s got enviable name ID among voters and nonvoters alike. Honestly, Texas Democrats should be begging her to run for Senate in 2024.
The winningest (and crankiest!) coach in NBA history is also one of its most outspoken. He’s attacked Greg Abbott in the past for his position on masking during the pandemic, for failing to take action on gun control, and more. In addition to his successful leadership in the sports world—which was enough of a case for Tommy Tuberville to win a Senate seat—Popovich also served five years in the Air Force, where he worked in intelligence. Like Longoria, he’s previously taken the position that one needn’t run for office to make a difference, and he’s been lending his support fairly directly to Texas Democrats in recent years—but objectively speaking, Popovich hasn’t made a difference by lending them his support, so maybe if he wants to see the party’s fortunes change, he needs to be on the ticket. At the very least, he’d provide an impressive contrast to Tuberville in the Senate.