Texas will be the first state in the U.S. to hold a party primary in the 2022 midterm election cycle. The state could turn out to be a harbinger of how much influence Donald Trump still on how voters cast their ballots.
Jonathan Bernstein is a politics and policy opinion columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He’s also a former political science professor at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: How is the Texas primary supposed to be a microcosm of Trump’s influence on Republican primaries across the nation?
Jonathan Bernstein: I’m not sure if microcosm is the right word because Texas is a little different than some of the other states where Trump is backing challengers to mainstream conservative Republicans. In Texas, he’s backing the full slate of incumbents at the statewide level.
But then again, there are some unique things about Texas politics that we have tried to articulate over the years here on the standard. Is there a certain red state mentality when it comes to the relationship with the Republican Party?
Yeah, I think Texas is similar to other Republican states in that what you have is a mainstream, very, very conservative party. And then you have a radical faction, which is a large faction within the party that is not so much more conservative than them. You can’t get a whole lot more conservative than somebody like Greg Abbott when it comes to policies. But [the radical faction] is procedurally impatient, unwilling to make compromises and willing to attack fellow Republicans on the basis of them not being radical enough. And so you have these two challengers to Abbott based on really nothing serious in terms of policy,
You’re talking about Allen West and Don Huffines. I think both have been characterized, at least in the mainstream press, as being to the right of Governor Abbott and Governor Abbott having sort of tacked to the right to try to deal with this primary season. Do you see it that way?
Yeah. What I see is that the radical people like West and Huffines – there isn’t a lot of room to be more conservative than Abbott. So they come up with stuff – things about vaccinating people or wearing masks become an opening. We [weren’t] against vaccines three or four years ago. Now, all of a sudden that’s a make or break thing; that the vaccines shouldn’t be mandated. And that wearing masks is somehow just being a Republican in name only.
So they come up with these things. And they call themselves more conservative and that gets picked up by the media. But whether it’s conservative in any sense outside of rhetorically, it’s very questionable.
Well, as we’ve been talking about the governor’s race, but one could also, at least in theory, put in that mix. Ken Paxton’s bid for attorney general. And of course, he faces a lot of challengers from within the Republican Party. And I’m curious if you’re thinking about outcomes. What would it mean if you have had a victory with Governor Abbott and Ken Paxton, versus, say, if primary challengers were to win?
There’s no question that it would certainly help Trump’s reputation as a powerful influencer within the party. Paxton is probably going to – I assume – go to a runoff. I haven’t seen any polling on that. It looks like Abbott probably will avoid a runoff. And so if both of them win more easily than expected. I think that would certainly help Trump’s reputation. If not, then it’s going to hurt Trump’s reputation. And we have a little while until next round of Republican primaries. So there’s really going to be a period of time where Texas is hanging out there as the big example of Trump’s clout.