AMAC Exclusive by Daniel Roman
McAllen, Texas, is not a city that usually attracts major political attention. Nestled along the Rio Grande, McAllen, with a population of 143,000, is Texas’ 21st largest city. But on Saturday, McAllen made national news. This 85% Hispanic city elected a Republican mayor. The triumph of Republican Javier Villalobos capped off what was a very good night for the Republican party in Texas local elections. It also further consolidated the great realignment of Hispanics into the Republican party that began with Donald Trump’s breakthrough along the Rio Grande Valley in November of 2020.
Villalobos’ win came as a shock to Democrats, who had previously controlled every single local office. Surprised by the strength of Donald Trump’s support in the 2020 election, Democrats apparently had been reassuring themselves that Trump’s appeal did not extend to the GOP in general. The evidence from Saturday is that it does.
Hidalgo County, Texas, dominated by McAllen, was ground zero for the shift of Hispanics toward the Republican Party during the 2020 election. In 2012, Barack Obama won the county over Mitt Romney by a margin of more than 40 points. In 2020, Trump cut that margin by more than 20 points and increased the overall Republican share of the vote by 13%.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, their gains in the high-end Texas suburbs in 2020 also appear to have been far more situational than their losses along the Texas border. In 2020, Joe Biden became the first Democrat since LBJ in 1964 to win Fort Worth’s Tarrant County, carrying it by the minuscule margin of 49.31%-49.09%. While tiny, this was a huge Democratic improvement on Republican margins of 55%-44% in 2008, 57%-41% in 2021, and 52%-43% in 2016. Democrats hoped to build on that momentum this year to elect a Democrat mayor in the nominally non-partisan elections on June 5. Their nominee, Deborah Peoples, the chair of the county Democrat party, attracted national attention as Fort Worth’s potentially first African American Mayor, as well as for her stands on police reform which seem to have played less well locally than they did in fundraising out of state. On election day, Peoples was defeated by a margin of 54%-46%.
The winner was Mattie Parker, Chief of Staff to the outgoing Mayor, who at 37 became the youngest Mayor of a major American city in history, and one of the few Republican mayors of a big city in the country. She had been endorsed by her predecessor as well as Governor Abbott and the local police and firefighters’ union.
These results follow up on a 2020 election that was profoundly disappointing for Democrats in Texas, where they failed to make gains in either the Texas state legislature or U.S. House delegation, much less win the state for Joe Biden. Every year since the 1970s has been to some degree disappointing for Texas Democrats. They have failed to win a statewide election since 1994 or a majority in a legislative chamber since 2000, but that has not prevented them from repeating the mantra that Texas is “turning blue.” The high-priced flops include their 2002 “Dream Team” of Hispanic Oil Billionaire Tony Sanchez for Governor, African American Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk for Senate, and Anglo John Sharp for Lt. Governor—they lost all three races by margins of 58-40, 55-43, and 52-46.
In 2013, State Senator Wendy Davis became a national icon of the left for her advocacy of abortion on the floor of the State Senate. She raised tens of millions in her doomed bid for Governor in 2014, only to lose the race 58-37. It was the worst result for any Democrat since 1998. In 2020, Davis lost her comeback bid for Texas’ 21st Congressional District 52-46%, even as Donald Trump only beat Biden 51%-48% in the district.
As they say, in Texas, everything is bigger, including Democrat politicians who lose. Loser Democrats like Wendy Davis are lionized by the state Democrat Party, while proven winners such as South Texas moderate Henry Cuellar are subject to constant primary challenges. Take Democrat darling Nick Lampson, who pursued a political vendetta against Tom Delay across four congressional seats only to lose, lose, and lose again. Or Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke who holds a mythical place in the minds of Texas Democrats for his loss to Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race, a campaign that saw Democrats lose up and down the ballot and fail to win any statewide office. O’Rourke, empowered by his defeat as only a Texas Democrat could be, went on to lose in front of the entire nation, failing to muster a Presidential campaign that could even make it to the Iowa caucuses, but contributing a fatal soundbite to Texas Democrats’ 2020 campaigns when he called for the seizure of private firearms.
O’Rourke’s comments on guns hung over Texas Democrats in 2020, just as the expectations raised by his close loss led them to believe that with one further push, they could win it all. Democrats believed that the State House was all but theirs, falling to infighting over who would be Speaker in September. When early voting turnout broke all records, even surpassing that of the 2016 general election, Democrats became convinced that they were on the cusp of winning in 2020. They were not close to being close.
It didn’t matter. Joe Biden did receive 1.4 million more votes than Clinton, but Donald Trump won 1.2 million more votes than he received in 2016, negating much of the Democrat advance. Down ballot, Democrats failed to win a single U.S. congressional seat, and the State House, which they had considered all but won, remained 83-67 Republican.
Democrats do not seem to have reflected on the reasons for their defeat. Rather than focusing on improving border security, they have neglected the region entirely, not just at the state level, but federally when Vice President Kamala Harris’ failed to take her role of “Border Czar” seriously. Statewide, Democrats have retreated into conspiracy theories, focusing their efforts on a struggle against voter I.D. laws and Republican changes to the early voting system, which make permanent some but not all the expansions made for the pandemic. Democrats charge that the new law does not allow every single avenue for voting and campaigning, which took place in 2020, ignoring that it allows for far longer early voting at far more locations in far more ways than was the case in 2016. In a fit of pique, Texas Democrats walked out of the State House session, breaking quorum and shutting down the state government in order to block the Republican legislation.
Their behavior has proved unimpressive to Latino voters in McAllen, who are worried about a growing border crisis and wondering where in the world is Kamala Harris, and to voters in Fort Worth who wanted to know why a Democrat running for Mayor only talked about issues more important to out of state interests.
Republicans in Texas have a lot to be proud of with their performance. They have run the state well and recruited strong candidates up and down the ballot, allowing Republicans to take advantage of Democrat mistakes even in areas like McAllen with no Republican history. The recent local elections reinforce that for all the Democrat and media bluster about “Texas turning Blue,” Hispanics are continuing their great realignment towards the Republican Party, preferring the pro-family, pro-working class, pro-public safety policies that Donald Trump ran on. As long as Texas Democrats continue to lionize their own losing politicians, there is no reason to believe Texas won’t be Red for a long time to come.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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