Hide your wallets and shield the children, because they’re voting down in Texas. Texas Republicans will be testing the strength of the Tea Party as they pick their first post-Rick Perry slate of statewide candidates since the 1980s. But Texas Democrats might end up missing Perry, as there is a decent shot that Republicans will nominate not their best-qualified, most-electable candidates but an entire clown car full of crazypants.
Let’s start at the top of the ticket, where incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, rated the second-most conservative senator in 2012, was apparently not conservative enough to escape a primary challenge. Into that breach leapt Steve Stockman, the congressman who once Tweeted, “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” This race should have been great fun, but Stockman has campaigned mostly by hiding from public view and skipping votes in congress. Going into the candidate protection program is working. One poll shows Stockman could force Cornyn into a runoff.
Below Greg Abbott on the ballot is a quartet of candidates for lieutenant governor, the most reasonable of whom advocates changing the 14th Amendment to prevent anchor babies from attaining citizenship. All of the Republicans seeking this office oppose abortion exceptions for rape and incest and supported keeping a dead woman on life support because she was pregnant. Even on this stage, state Sen. Dan Patrick, who faces good odds to advance to the next round, stands out for calling undocumented immigrants an “illegal invasion.” What’s smart in a Texas Republican primary can be politically fatal in a state that’s 40 percent Hispanic.
We lower ourselves in more ways than one when we go down the ballot to the Algonquin Round Table known as the primary to succeed Abbott as attorney general. The candidates make a point of agreeing that their main job is to continue legally fruitless and patently political lawsuits against the Obama administration. They differ only in emphasis: The frontrunner touts his support for school prayer, damn the constitution. Another claims the allegiance of Ted Cruz. And the last, Barry Smitherman, is on the air with an ad that looks more like a declaration of war against Mexico to protect Texans “from cartels and crimes like human trafficking.”
In almost any other state, Smitherman would occupy an unelectable outpost in the political boondocks. But this is Texas, where his sort of yee-haw radicalism is mainstreamed. Already elected to a different statewide office, Smitherman has spent this campaign claiming that most aborted fetuses “would have voted Republican,” that Texas has “made great progress in becoming an independent nation, an ‘island nation’ if you will,” and that the United Nations Small Arms Treaty endangers 2nd Amendment rights in Texas. He has raised millions of dollars and is polling in the double digits. Pray for us, America.
Smitherman, Patrick, and Stockman are hardly exceptions. Elsewhere on the Republican primary ballot you’ll find a 9/11 Truther, the legislator who mandated that doctors perform sonograms on women seeking abortions to give them the shocking news of their pregnancy, and another state lawmaker who is running to protect, he says, “the gift of oil and gas God has given us.” And if they win their primaries, these walking affronts to logic and reason would be favorites to rule over the second-biggest state in the union. Some days I think Lincoln should have let the Confederacy go.
The nuthouse radicalism these candidates espouse has a significant constituency among the Texas Republican voters, 35 percent of whom support secession. Highlighting the lunatic fringe does not legitimize them. The voters who support them in statistically significant numbers do. To treat these credible candidates as outliers undersells the danger. Texas Republicans have redefined normal so far to the right as to make Genghis Khan look like a squishy moderate.
Rick Perry earned a few attaboys when he condemned Ted Nugent for calling Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel,” a phrase the Nazis used to justify the mass-murder of Jews. Texas Republicans have defined deviancy so far down that criticizing a phrase Joseph Goebbels coined comes across as refreshing candor. When the votes come in on March 4, we’ll see just how far down that is.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.