Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses state and congressional elections. It also discusses the state of the parties. The state of the GOP is not good.
Theoretically, West’s priorities for the 87th session of the Texas Legislature should not be of great consequence to Abbott. When was the last time you knew the name of a state party chair? Ask even a politically inclined Texan, and he or she might — might — say the late 1990s, when the late Susan Weddington became the first woman to lead a major party in Texas. In a single year, she raised $16 million for the G.O.P., an internal party record that still stands.
This was what party chairs did then, for the most part: raise money. But in 2002 campaign-finance reform capped individual and corporate donations to party committees. “We’ve seen a pretty steady decline in their influence since then,” Wayne Hamilton, a Republican consultant and a former executive director of the Texas G.O.P., told me. “It became the case that if someone told you they were running for the chair, you said, ‘Yeah, yeah, OK,’ because nobody really cares anymore.”
State party conventions — the biennial gatherings where delegates elect their leadership and determine the party’s platform — became more ceremonial than anything else, an outpost for activist types who bore little resemblance to the party’s average voter. Still, they tended to be team players. “The governor effectively selected the state-party chairman, and the other members ratified his choice,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, told me. “In the past, you simply would not have had people like Kelli Ward or Allen West becoming state party chairs. That is the influence of Donald Trump.” (Before becoming chairwoman of the Arizona G.O.P. in 2019, Kelli Ward was best known for her unsuccessful attempts to unseat Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and for using government resources to host a town hall addressing the conspiracy theory that the government was injecting dangerous chemicals into the air via airplane contrails when she was a state senator. McCain’s team dubbed her “Chemtrail Kelli.”)