Welcome to Texas, the Loon Star State

    Texas has kicked off the ’14 Republican primary season, burnishing its unrivaled reputation for embracing the Crazy. And what an election night it was!

    The clear winner of the gubernatorial primary, as well as the next likely agricultural commissioner, got help from a celebrity rocker who thinks Barack Obama is a “subhuman mongrel.” The top finisher in the lieutenant gubernatorial primary thinks that creationism should not only be taught in public schools, but that “it should be triumphed, it should be heralded.” The number two finisher in that primary (who will face the top finisher in a runoff) thinks that women impregnated by their rapists or perverted family members should be forced to give birth.

    Meanwhile, the top pick for state comptroller ran a TV ad that showed him firing a fully automatic M-16, which did prompt me to wonder why a ban-counter who aspired to collect sales taxes still felt compelled to prove he was fully capable of decimating another human being. Oh, but then I remembered: this was Texas. Specificially, the Texas GOP primaries. Specifically, the rabidly rightward Texas GOP primaries. Which also explains why one of the lieutenant gubernatorial candidates filmed himself locking-and-loading in a gun shop, and why one of the attorney general candidates filmed himself powering an automatic weapon and scowling across the Rio Grande.

    Let us pause today to contemplate the Loon Star State, where the raging conservative id remains dominant, where conservative Republican primary voters have essentially picked all the state’s leaders during the last two decades. And the rightward ideological tilt is now more pronounced than ever, thanks to the Ted Cruz success story. Cruz’s upstart Senate primary win in 2012 – when he called his opponent a “moderate,” which in Texas is a fatal slur on manhood – has inspired Republicans to heap a lot more red meat on the grill.

    Former Texas Republican legislator Chuck Hopson laments, “This is not the party of Ronald Reagan anymore.” Yeah, no kidding. Ronald Reagan as he existed in reality would’ve been Texas toast in last night’s primaries. (But a Texas-retooled Reagan might have done just fine, especially if he had declared – as did all the lieutenant gubernatorial hopefuls – that a medically and legally dead pregnant woman named Marlise Munoz should’ve been kept artificially alive by government decree despite the wishes of her family. More on that in a moment.)

    And Texas Republican strategist Jim McGrath laments, “Working with Democrats and uttering the word ‘compromise’ would be the death knell for any Republican candidate running in Texas today…The rhetoric of the tea party does not square with the reality of governing.” Yeah, no kidding. But who cares about governing anyway? The impulse in Texas is to coarsen the rhetoric and provide fresh grist for right-wing ideologues nationwide.

    I keep referencing the lieutenant gubernatorial race because that post is powerful in Texas. And the spring Republican runoff between the top two finishers – State Sen. Dan Patrick (he got 41.4 percent) and current incumbent David Dewhurst (28.3 percent) – figures to be a deep dive into the fever swamp. Dewhurst is the guy who lost the ’12 Senate primary to Cruz; he has been dogged by the “moderate” tag ever since, which is why he’s so willing to speak Nutcase. (I particularly liked his recent TV ad where he denounced “Washington’s endless attempts to take away our freedom,” while somehow overlooking the fact that freedom-hating Washington gives Texas roughly $80 billion a year in federal aid – and that Texas officials are routinely in DC lobbying for more.)

    But Dan Patrick – a radio talk show host as well as a state senator – is the big dog. It speaks volumes about Texas that the odds-on choice for lieutenant governor is a guy who says thinks the immigrant “invasion” is threatening the state with “tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and leprosy,” a guy who thinks that real Americans oughta be able to tote their guns just about everywhere, and who touts himself as a “Christian leader” (which helps explain why he walked out of the state Senate chamber when the opening prayer was offered by a Muslim).

    But the Marlise Munoz case says it all. She was brain dead last November after an embolism, and her family wanted her removed from the machine – in accordance with her wishes, voiced when she was alive. But the Texas hospital refiused, citing a state law which decreed that she stay on the machine because she was pregnant. Two months later, on Jan. 24, a Texas judge ruled for the family – after the hospital conceded that the oxygen-deprived fetus wasn’t viable. The Christian conservative protestors outside the hospital (“Praying for Baby Munoz”) were outraged.

    What fabulous grist for a politician! During a TV debate several days later, Patrick successfully staked out the most rightward stance; in essence, he said that the dead woman should’ve stayed hooked up until the fetus was carrried to term. His own words: “We’re born in the image of God and where we have the opportunity to preserve life we should do that. That’s our duty as Christians.” During the runoff, maybe Dewhurst can flank him on the right by proposing that all Christian newborns be given permits to conceal and carry.

    Hey, it could’ve been worse in Texas. One tea-partyer who had proposed that ranchers be allowed to summarily shoot any trespassing “wetbacks” was soundly defeated in the U.S. Senate primary. One failed Republican candidate for attorney general, currently heading the Texas Railroad Commission, insisted that the earth isn’t warming – a remark so hilarious that even the state climatologist felt compelled to refute him.

    But rest assured that, as a national laboratory for the Crazy, Texas will continue to update the old Barry Goldwater line, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

    Although even Barry Goldwater would’ve been trounced in these primaries.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.