One of the most difficult, but edifying, exercises in following the news is trying to get a handle on how what’s happening today will be understood in the future. What really matters versus what doesn’t. What we think we know right now can seem awfully near-sighted, once those same facts show up in the rearview mirror.
Does it matter that Rick Santorum won the last Republican caucus in Iowa? Or that Mike Huckabee took home the gold in 2008? Four years from now, will we remember who wins next Monday? On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders’s insurgent candidacy could shake things up. But Sanders is an experienced politician. No one has ever seen anything quite like Donald Trump in American politics.
Some prospective voters chuckle and others look on in horror when it comes to Trump. Pundits marvel at how he manages to get away with what he does, time and again. His latest move: Trump says he won’t debate tonight.
But perhaps the collective gaze is fixed on the wrong thing.
As the nation prepares for its first Trump-less GOP debate of the 2016 presidential season, pondering the potential fallout or lack thereof in Iowa, let’s try something. Let’s pull back just a bit and open up our focal range so we can see the whole circus – not just the game in front of us.
Mike Ward of the Houston Chronicle did something which may be especially useful for those of us who live in a state that’s redder than any other. He is asking a question about the long term: Given what’s happening in presidential politics right now, what does it mean to be a Republican in Texas?
“As I had been working stories across the state in recent months I had noticed that the definition of Republican was different from one place to another,” Ward says. “This affects both who people are thinking about voting for, but it also affects how they view the world.”
Ward says it’s almost civil war in some areas around the state. In others, he says, it’s a redefinition of what being a Republican is.
“In northeast Texas, there are large groups of Donald Trump supporters who believe that being Republican is independent outsider, Second Amendment supporter, on down the list,” he says. “In other parts of the state, where Ted Cruz’s support is very strong, they have much the same view… they believe that Cruz is an outsider, that Trump is not qualified.”
Those parts of the state have traditionally been independent with a “we don’t like government” spirit, Ward says. In Houston and West Texas, Jeb Bush has a following, left over from the Bush dynasty supporters, even though the other candidates cast him as an establishment candidate, Ward says.
Ward says we’ll look back on this presidential race as one that changed what it meant to be Republican in Texas.
“I think the definition of being a Republican has been changing over the past three or four years, and I think this year it is particularly noticeable,” he says. “It’s probably akin to the Reagan revolution in the ’80s.”
In other words, it’s a big change.