Usually state parties nominate candidates at conventions, activists adopt a pre-approved platform and everyone goes home happy. What happened in Fort Worth was a combination of a demolition derby and an inauguration. Rick Perry may have kicked off the weekend with a well-regarded speech, but there was a new king when delegates left town. Ted Cruz is now the head of the He-Man Woman-Gay-Immigrant-Science-Logic Hater's Club formerly known as the Republican Party of Texas. Long may he reign.
Need proof? After Texas Republicans got done adopting a platform that compared unauthorized immi-grants to Islamic terrorists, they held a presidential straw poll. Cruz won big, and Perry came in fourth. Perry has been governor of Texas since Major Applewhite was everyone's favorite college senior. For Perry, it must have felt like watching your children call another man daddy.
There is not a rational reason in the world to think that putting Cruz in charge of anything makes sense politically, but we're talking about the Republican Party that is now evenly divided between those who advocate bad ideas and those who see that as a weak-kneed compromise. In Fort Worth, the latter-day jihadists won the day, and Ted Cruz, the apogee of tantrum politics, is their champion.
When Cruz forced a government shutdown because he didn't get his way on Obamacare, the polls pun-ished both him and the GOP, but Republicans fell in love. Republican activists think the government shutdown was a good idea regardless of how unpopular it proved because it picked a fight they blamed their leadership for avoiding. Republican congressional leadership, of course, was more concerned about winning the Senate than about kowtowing to a conservative base with a blood lust for a fool's errand.
This is how Texas Republicans end up having a family feud in public over an issue that will determine whether the GOP can ever win the White House again. There is no political upside to appearing hostile and unwelcoming to Hispanics, and yet one of the leading activists at the Fort Worth convention told this paper that he "would rather have a unified party than win." That's the same logic that convinced Cruz to force a government shutdown over Obamacare.
It wasn't always like this, and writing this next sentence induces actual feelings of nausea, but I can't help it: If—as Paul Begala famously wrote—Perry was "the candidate for those who thought George W. Bush was too cerebral," then Cruz is the leader for Texans who considered Perry too moderate. If Ted Cruz and Texas Republicans follow through on their plans, we will look back fondly on Perry's reign of error as an era of relative tolerance and bi-partisan cooperation.
For longer than I care to remember, Perry was the Republicans whom Texas Democrats loved to hate, but compared to this generation of Republican leaders he doesn't seem so bad. He signed the DREAM Act in 2001, and for that good deed he got his lunch money stolen by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santo-rum on live television.
To be fair, Perry was—rather, is (oops)—no one's liberal, especially compared to his predecessor, George W. Bush. As governor, Dubya bragged about bipartisanship, proposed new taxes, and seemed unconcerned with whether, as today's Texas Republican Party platform claims, homosexuality "tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit."
The Texas Republican Party needs a lot of reparative therapy to become fit for polite society again. One can legitimately claim that the Texas GOP platform won't change a single vote, but Republican statewide nominees agree with the platform's anti-immigrant, anti-women's health, anti-public school, anti-21st Cen-tury agenda. You can't run from a platform and run on it at the same time.
The Texas Republican Party convention was the best convention Texas Democrats have ever had. For two decades, good economies have prevented Democrats from convincing Texans that our Republican overlords had gone off the deep end. With this radical platform and like-minded ticket, Republicans have made the case better than Democrats ever could have. Making Cruz the standard-bearer? That's better than lucky. For Texas Democrats, it's Christmas come in June, and if we're lucky, in November too.