Texas is increasingly becoming important in the 2020 presidential race. Republican Congressman Will Hurd called it a “jump ball” during an interview at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin on Thursday. In other words, the state, in his mind, is up for grabs.
And Hurd likely won’t be the only person to declare that the political dynamic in Texas is changing, as thousands of people gather in Austin this weekend for the annual festival. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will give the keynote address on Saturday, and Democratic presidential candidate from Texas, Julián Castro, will also speak.
Journalists and political analysts are also attending, including Washington Post political columnist Karen Tumulty, and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Both say the presidential impeachment inquiry will be the backdrop for many political discussions at the festival.
“No one knows where this is all headed,” says Tumulty. “And we really don’t have any modern precedent to guide us because we’ve not had, in modern times, at least, an impeachment proceeding land right in the middle of a presidential campaign.”
Tumulty suspects that the impeachment inquiry could overshadow any news coming from the presidential race, but that it could also change who ends up becoming the Democratic nominee.
DeFrancesco Soto says the impeachment proceedings will give Texas an even more important role in 2020. That’s because she says it shines a light on how Trump’s style of politics has trickled down to state politics. The alleged conflict between conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen is an example of that.
“Republicans who may have held their nose with President Trump … they’re seeing the drip, drip, drip of just, political ugliness, whiffs of corruption,” DeFrancesco Soto says. “I think that may push a lot of folks to make Texas a little bit lighter shade of red, and maybe even purple or blue.”
Still, she says if she were advising Texas Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn, she’d tell them to wait for the results of the impeachment inquiry before distancing themselves from President Trump.
Even if the inquiry leads to a recommendation for impeachment by the House, Tumulty says the Senate would likely never vote in favor of that.
“The chances of this removing him from office are minuscule,” she says.
But DeFrancesco Soto suggests an alternative scenario. Several Republicans have recently announced they’re retiring from Congress, which means they may be more inclined to vote their conscience, she says.
“These are Republicans that can say, ‘You know what? I’m not running. What do I care? This guy’s in hot water; even if he survives, I don’t want the funk on me, so I may just vote to impeach him,’” DeFrancesco Soto says.
As for the Texans running for the Democratic nomination for president, Tumulty says it’s unlikely Julián Castro or Beto O’Rourke will be in the race much longer. Neither has “caught fire” at this point, she says. And the impeachment inquiry will make it even more difficult to stand out.
“The opportunities for these candidates who are now in the rear of the Democratic primary field … there’s gonna be a lot less opportunity for them to shake up the race,” Tumulty says.
She says the Democratic nominee will likely be former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Democratic presidential candidates, including Castro and O’Rourke, will debate for a fought time, in October. As for the fifth presidential debate in November, DeFrancesco Soto says Castro and O’Rourke are unlikely to qualify.
“Never say never in politics,” she says. “But I do think … given the Trump presidency, folks are hungry to consolidate behind one person.”
Written by Caroline Covington.