West Texas.

I want to love Texas, I really do, but I have to wonder about it sometimes. I don’t get the politics. I went there a few months ago to try to figure it out myself and I left only more confused than when I arrived.

The people you meet while there seem like average Americans. Friendly, charitable, reasonable, freedom loving, willing to let you be as long as don’t bother them. There are big cities like Dallas and Houston, small towns like Amarillo, bi-lingual border towns like El Paso, and artist and tourist havens like Marfa and Galveston.

When I worked in Washington, D.C., I worked in an office full of Texans who I considered equally reasonable in their outlook on life and politics. Some were more conservative than others and among those who were conservative, I sensed their positions on the issues were — at times — taken more out of loyalty to the conservative cause than their own deeply held beliefs. I felt some hadn’t thought their conservative views through, but were espousing positions they felt necessary to present, as their own, in order to fit in. That’s fine. It happens everyday in lots of places.

Texas is one of the fastest growth states in the country and as it grows it moves closer and closer to status as a swing state that could go either way in a national election. Every two years you can find Democrats saying “this is the year” Texas turns. So far it hasn’t, but Republicans have noticed the trend and it has led many of the state’s elected leaders to embrace a cartoonish form of conservatism that seems destined for failure.

I will concede they know the math of Texas politics better than I do, but anyone who has studied polls and focus groups knows that at some point common sense supplants even the best polling results. On several big issues, Texas Republicans seem to be putting the party’s future on a rail to irrelevance.

This is what is hard to understand, from a distance. Do average Texans really believe in the crazy policy positions their politicians seem to think they believe in?

It is difficult to take some leading Texas Republicans seriously. Governor Greg Abbott, when he served as the state’s attorney general, was quoted often saying he had the easiest job in politics. “I go into the office in the morning. I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.” It’s both an honest admission of political tactics and a look into the disingenuous nature of his political core.

It worked, for him. Now he’s governor and he is one of a few Republican governors, across the country, who have decided the way to the top — maybe even the way to the White House — is to appeal to voters on the far right; the irrational right.

Abbott has pushed back against protocols and public health measures proven to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. He has recently signed legislation into law making it harder for some people to vote. He has signed into law, a measure making it nearly impossible for a woman to get an abortion. In all three cases, he has defended his positions with arguments that wouldn’t hold up under the scrutiny of a junior high school debate team.

In defense of the anti-abortion law(which is almost certainly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court), he said last month that he is not concerned about the fact that the new law does not include exceptions for women who have been raped. When pressed further, he said, to solve the rape issue his administration will work with law enforcement to put all rapists in jail.

Let’s not spend too much time picking that one apart, but it is worth pointing out that in order to put a rapist in jail he first must commit a rape. So what happens to the victims? How does the law protect them? Further, most sexual assaults are committed by men who know their victims, not strangers hunting for random targets.

When extended unemployment benefits expired last month for millions of Americans U.S. Senator Ted Cruz(R) said on Twitter they should, “get a job.” While Cruz is correct that there are many employers having trouble finding workers, it stands to reason that if the unemployed could get a job they would. Early evidence from states that ended extended benefits earlier in the year shows there has been no correlation between the end of those benefits and employment levels.

Not to be outdone in the inanity sweepstakes is Lt. Governor Dan Patrick(R), who suggested last year that older Americans were willing to risk their health and even their lives to end the economic shutdown caused by Covid-19. This year he has suggested the spread of Covid is being accelerated by Black Americans who are not yet vaccinated and that abortion is the ultimate attack on women.

Do these people really represent the views of most Texans? I would like to think not. Do these policies represent a smart long-term strategy for Republicans in Texas, or the rest of the country? Not if math matters.

Let’s put polls aside and consider these facts of life and demographics:

  • Seniors vote more often and more consistently than any other voting group. Putting them at increased risk of death costs votes.
  • Women make up 55% of the population of Texas. Taking away the right to make their own decisions about an issue as personal as abortion does not win votes from women.
  • Neither does a policy that requires sexual assault as the first step toward solving a problem.
  • Failing to strongly support public health measures that lead to illness and death from Covid-19 is not only morally wrong, but from a cold political perspective, leads to fewer voters.

So seriously Texas, what is going on? Why do you keep electing these guys? They’re killing you.

I suspect the problem is bigger than Texas. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that many people just don’t care who their elected leaders are. Many people don’t see the connection between what is happening in Austin or Washington, D.C. and their own lives. They don’t pay attention. They don’t understand that what their governor does and says is being done and said in their name. As a result, Texans, and Americans in many parts of the country, are left with poor choices to make on Election Day. As a result, we end up with a class of crass politicians who take responsibility for nothing and see public service only as a sport based in division and where the rights and even the lives of many Americans are expendable.