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The New California

In Republican politics, it’s Texas.

Aug 29, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 46 • By TOD LINDBERG
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Texas has also long been a political incubator—but at first for Democrats. LBJ made it to the top, and Lloyd Bentsen was the nominee for vice president in 1988. But as California was becoming less Republican, Texas was becoming more so. John Connally personified the trend. He was elected governor of Texas in 1962, the 25th Democrat in a string of 27 to serve in that position before the GOP finally broke through in 1979, more than 100 years after the last Republican governor. Connally went on to serve in the Nixon administration, switched parties, and sought the GOP presidential nomination in 1980 (a campaign that went famously badly; Connally spent a then-princely $11 million and ended up with exactly one delegate). Senator Phil Gramm, another ex-Democrat, sought the GOP presidential nomination in 1996. At the outset, most observers considered him a major contender, and his campaign began promisingly. He tied eventual nominee Bob Dole in the Iowa caucuses before fizzling.

Nobody really thought the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, was a Texan. Bush père was a transplant who’d come to Texas to make his fortune (a forerunner in a long line, it seems). In his first bid for public office, he ran statewide in Texas for a Senate seat in 1964 and lost. But he went on to be elected twice to a Houston House seat before running unsuccessfully for the Senate seat Lloyd Bentsen won.

The generally held view of his oldest son, especially among critics, is that George W. Bush was Texas incarnate. In fact, of course, Bush fils was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and educated at Yale and Harvard Business School. Bush did go all-in for Texas. But in retrospect, it may turn out that he was more Texas than Texas: perhaps a little affected in his “bring ’em on,” “smoke them out of their holes” style and deportment. 

In Rick Perry, Texas comes into its own. There is no doubt about where Perry is from. Not Yale, but Texas A&M, as Perry likes to point out. Bush got religion; Perry had it from birth. He has Texas authenticity in a way that Bush never fully did.

Texas’s constitutional structure was long noteworthy for its fairly weak governor’s office. It strengthened under both Bush and Perry, however; it’s now an office in which a good politician can make a difference. The state’s Republican party, meanwhile, has never been stronger, and its fundraising base has never been larger. 

Texas is a great launch platform. For the foreseeable future, it’s the premier place to keep an eye on for GOP presidential contenders.

Tod Lindberg, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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