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Tea Party Flexes its Muscles in Texas | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

Tea Party Flexes its Muscles in Texas

Texas is a very different state than Maine, where the Tea Party displaced the moderate establishment. The Texas Republican Party is about as conservative as any state party in the country. If the GOP establishment could feel safe anywhere it would be Texas, where the party platform adopted in 2010 opens with a declaration of support for “state sovereignty reserved under the Tenth Amendment.” In just the first page the platform goes on to hit Tea Party erogenous zones such as “review and revision of those portions of the USA Patriot Act... that erode constitutional rights” and to issue this unusual declaration: “We demand elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders.” We’ll see if they feel that way when there is a Republican in the Oval Office.

But Tuesday’s primary in Texas showed that the Tea Party movement remains suspicious of candidates who are favored by the party establishment. In a number of races, they upset the incumbent or favorite. As Abby Rapoport reports in The American Prospect, a number of Republican state legislators who voted for draconian budget cuts were targeted, and in some cases taken out. “Several incumbents suffered—but not in a manner you might expect,” writes Rapoport. “Take Rob Eissler, the Republican chair of the Public Education Committee who pushed for some of the big budget cuts. He lost his primary Tuesday night in a big upset. But he didn't lost [sic] his seat to a candidate pushing back against cuts. Nope. Eissler lost his seat to a Tea Party insurgent because—get this—Eissler had been too moderate and was too closely aligned with House Speaker Joe Straus.”

The Texas race that garnered national attention is the race for the state’s open US Senate seat. Since Texas is so overwhelmingly Republican, winning the primary is tantamount to winning the general election. The establishment favorite is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Dewhurst is hardly the second coming of Nelson Rockefeller. As the Washington Post notes, “A Rice University study found that the lieutenant governor is about as conservative as two-thirds of the Republican state Senate delegation.” That’s a pretty conservative group.

But Tea Party activists say Dewhurst has not been aggressive enough in opposing illegal immigration and opposing intrusive government. “David Dewhurst, has consistently failed to fight for Conservative [sic] principles,” Katrina Pierson, board member of the Dallas Tea Party, writes in an email. “In Texas, there are three boxes you have to check. The first being pro-life. Second, you have to be pro-guns. Third, you have to be against increasing Taxes [sic]. Having checked all three of those boxes, most Republican voters overlook the other and more important virtues of Conservatism [sic] until now. The Texas budget has been smoke and mirrors with illegal immigration being a large contributing factor…. Dewhurst, along with Governor Perry, do the bidding on the cheap labor lobby as requested of their top donors.”

The Tea Party, both locally and nationally, has mobilized to support former state solicitor general Ted Cruz. Cruz is a Cuban-American lawyer who has excited right wing activists, leading the Post to wonder, “Is Ted Cruz the next Marco Rubio?” (Even though conservatives often express contempt for educational success such as President Obama’s, they tend to excitedly boast that Cruz attended Princeton and Harvard Law, where he founded the Harvard Latino Law Review before clerking for William H. Rehnquist.)

Dewhurst finished with the most votes in the four-way primary, but Cruz succeeded in his goal of holding Dewhurst to lower than 50 percent, which means that the top two finishers—Dewhurst with 45 percent and Cruz with 34 percent—will compete in a run off on July 31. Public Policy Polling has Dewhurst ahead 59 to 34 in a head-to-head match up with Cruz, but Cruz’s Tea Party supporters are predicting victory. “We’re confident we can win one on one,” says Adam Brandon, spokesman for FreedomWorks.

There is a distinctly libertarian flavor to the movement supporting Cruz over Dewhurst. Pierson, for example, cites Dewhurst’s failure to protect civil liberties as one of her primary objections to him. “David Dewhurst had the opportunity to take the lead last year with the TSA anti-groping legislation,” she writes in an email. “Dewhurst was the presiding officer in the Senate and he personally worked against the passage of that legislation by seeking a threatening letter from the TSA…. Ted [Cruz] has the experience and the energy to fight alongside proven Conservative Senators such as Jim Demint and Rand Paul.”

The mention of Paul is not coincidental. As Rosie Gray reports in BuzzFeed, the Pauls have built a right wing–libertarian machine within the Republican Party that is promoting like-minded candidates all over the country. “A few high-profile candidates, like Ted Cruz in Texas, have been particularly successful at profiting from the Paul anointment,” writes Gray. “Father and son appeared with him at a rally in Texas and conducted a moneybomb for him.”

This is hardly the only instance of overlap between the Paul apparatus and the Tea Party insurgency. Terra Eclipse, the technology firm that builds Web platforms for FreedomWorks, among other conservative clients, grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign. They have recently outfitted FreedomWorks with Freedom Connector, an online platform that allows someone on the ground in any state to engage directly with activists in his or her area without the intermediation of a staffer in Washington. “FreedomWorks understands ground up rather than top down,” says Martine Avila of Terra Eclipse. “We learned that first hand from the Ron Paul campaign.” So far that model seems to be working for them. 

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