The Texas Republican Party kicks off its 2016 convention this Thursday in Dallas. Until recently, it looked as if there would be a fierce competition to determine who would represent Texas at the party’s national convention in Cleveland in July. But that was before Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign.
University of Saint Thomas student Vlad Davidiuk attended his first Texas GOP convention four years ago. He ran for a delegate’s spot at the party’s national convention in Tampa, and lost. This year, he’s better organized. He’s got a network of supporters, as the past chair of his school’s College Republicans. And he was looking forward to campaigning for Ted Cruz in Cleveland.
“I’m kind of torn,” Davidiuk says, “because I’ve never actually been to a national convention, so I would like to have the actual experience of being there. At the same time, I find myself somewhat reluctant to be there at what in all certainty seems to be the coronation of Donald Trump.”
Davidiuk says he’s hearing a lot of that from fellow Cruz supporters, including those who were running to be national delegates themselves. “I’ve had a few friends who I’ve noticed have dropped out, who have subsequently decided that they no longer wish to attend the national convention,” he says.
Picking Texas’ 155 delegates to Cleveland won’t be the only order of business in Dallas. There’s the question of who will lead the state GOP for the next two years. Incumbent chairman Tom Melcher is facing a rematch with Jared Woodfill, former chair of the Harris County Republican Party and his 2014 opponent.
But Rice University political scientist Bob Stein says much of the Texas convention will boil down to damage control.
“My suspicions are that the convention will be one of how do we manage Donald Trump as a candidate for president and how do we protect ourselves, the Republican Party in Texas, from possible down-ballot defections,” Stein says. If Republican voters who backed Cruz in March stay home this November, it could wind up costing the party local contests in places like Harris County.
Cruz himself is scheduled to address the convention. I asked Davidiuk what he’d most like to hear from the senator.
“The best course of action for him would be to acknowledge the reality that our party has to do better,” Davidiuk says, “not only with these people in the middle class and the white working class that have been largely ignored and set aside for the last 30, 40 years, but in reaching out to those people who may not have looked at Republicans as a natural outlet politically.”
To put it another way, he says, the GOP is going to be known as the Party of Trump for at least the next six months. The state convention will give Texas Republicans the opportunity to come to terms with that and to decide where to go next.