Prazan on Politics: Texans in 2016

Editorial by Clayton Bowen.
Editorial by Clayton Bowen.

Don’t get me wrong, Iowa is a great place to visit – but not in January. Texans are making the trek North anyway.

In the past two years, Gov. Rick Perry leads likely GOP nominees with eight visits to Iowa. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz is on his tail with seven. Both spoke at the Family Leadership Summit, the pet project of Iowa GOP kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats. Like it or not, the road to the White House runs through the Hawkeye State and both of them are hitch-hiking for votes and money there.

Will there be too many Texans? Not at all. In the second half of the 20th century, Texas has launched presidential ambitions. President Lyndon B. Johnson, the great Texas deal-maker, called the Hill Country his home.  President George H.W. Bush moved to Texas to make it rich in the oil business. His son, George W. Bush, became governor and the longest-serving president from Texas. Let’s not forget that John “Cactus Jack” Garner, vice president under FDR, lived in the Lone Star state from cradle to grave. That’s not even counting the wannabes: Ross Perot, Ron Paul, Phil Gramm, John Connally and Perry.

“Many Texas politicians have been national figures,” said Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle, “Their voices have been key parts in the national dialogue.”

There’s something about growing up south of the Red River that makes a lot of people want to be the man in charge. First, Texas is huge – the second largest state in both area and population. Thirty-eight Electoral College votes in the bag is a good start. Second – and especially relevant in 2016 – Texas is the bedrock of the Republican Party. Texas molds political thought from Karl Rove to the Tea Party. Third is money. Cash is the single most important determiner of elections, and Texas land and oil props up many a politician.

There could be a lot of big hats in the ring in 2016: two outright Texans and two Texas sons: Cruz and Perry. But Jeb Bush, son and brother of two presidents, is a political punditry favorite. TIME’s “Most Interesting Man in Politics,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, certainly runs a lot of plays from his father’s (Texas Rep. Ron Paul) playbook. But this isn’t a column about Kentucky or Florida, so I’m looking at Cruz and Perry.

The case for Perry:         

Perry has never lost a statewide election. “He is a proven vote-getter,” said Jay Root, a journalist who followed Perry on his 2012 run for President. With 14 years in the Governor’s Mansion under his belt, he’s arguably the most powerful Texas governor of all time. As establishment and Tea Party Republicans struggle for control of their party, Perry fits in the middle. He talks the talk to the second-amendment-loving, Federal-Reserve-hating Tea Partiers. All while walking the walk, keeping taxes low and keeping Texas as one of the best places in America to start and grow a business.

Over the years, he sees where the political winds blow. He jumped ship and became a Republican as conservatives bolted the Democratic Party. He shot his pistol on the Capitol steps a few years before the Tea Party wave swept the country in 2010.  “No matter how big his obstacles are, he almost always finds a way to jump past them,” said Root.

What’s the hold up?

Well, he could be in jail by the time 2016 rolls around. Many think his indictment by a Travis County jury is pure political theater.  But an indictment is an indictment. Felony charges for leveraging his veto power to get Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign could have real world consequences and end his political career.

Then there’s “oops!” Jay Root from the Texas Tribune named his book after Perry’s fail at a nationally-televised Republican debate. “It’s 56 cringe worthy seconds,” said Root, “It will go down as one of the most infamous political gaffes of all time.” The governor is sporting new glasses, but the country still needs to see he can rebound. But when I asked Ward and Root if his obstacles are too big, they both said the same thing: “Never underestimate Rick Perry.”

The case for Cruz:

“Cruz has street cred with conservatives like no other,” said Root. Elected in 2012, Cruz captured the hearts and minds of the conservative right. He doesn’t play by the put-your-time-in rules of the Senate. Obnoxious to some, heroic to others, no side can ignore his filibusters or his passion. He’s a thorn in the side of Democrats and Republicans who aren’t conservative enough for much of America. He electrifies crowds and steals the show when he’s next to his older, more established counterparts. He wasn’t solely responsible for the last government shutdown, but a majority of America thinks so – causing the far-right to love him and the far-left to despise him. Both see him as the Tea Party incarnate. Cruz claims his views are the future of the GOP. Unless there is major (financial) push back from the establishment, he may be right.

What’s the hold up?

“He may be too conservative for some Republicans in other states,” said Ward. He will be an immediate favorite in the far south and the Republican primary. His challenge will be selling his views to a national audience. “People in other states tend to look at Texas differently than people in Texas look at Texas. Some of the things done in Texas are considered to be off the charts in other states,” said Ward.

Many candidates in 2016 will run against Washington dysfunction. Depending on where you stand, you see Cruz as either the cause of it, or the only hope to end it. Either way, Cruz lives the majority of his life in Washington D.C. That could hurt him in the long run depending on how the country views our capitol.

But who says Texas Presidential politics is only for Republicans? Many think Julian Castro is the new hope for Texas Democrats. If you Google “Clinton-Castro 2016” you’ll find the Texas Democratic Party sells buttons for $2.00.

If you have political story ideas, please contact me on twitter, @PhilPrazan, or email, at philp@kxan.com.