A day after the 2014 election, when Democrats all across this country suffered what could generously be described as a shellacking, this publication ran a cover article with the headline “TEXAS WILL NEVER TURN BLUE.” Three months on, as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick stand ready to assume the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, that sentiment looks true as ever. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wishes to abandon the legislature and flee into municipal politics, specifically by attempting to become the next mayor of San Antonio (directly contradicting herself from July). Will Hailer, the longtime executive director of the Texas Democratic Party who was heralded as a prophet to lead them into the promised land, just left Texas. And then there’s Battleground Texas. Oh, Battleground Texas.
In February 2013, a gaggle of former Obama campaign staffers came together to create the organization, which promised to hastily turn Texas blue. Obviously, that was a bit of a stretch, but the idea nonetheless was that they would expedite the progress already underway to make the state politically competitive. Whatever they did, it didn’t work. Actually, that’s a gross understatement; they actively made things significantly worse.
Accordingly, when I saw the article in the Texas Observer entitled “Does Battleground Texas have a future?,” all I could think was “oh my gosh, I sure hope not.” Whatever they did in this election cycle, which is still a matter of open debate, was deleterious and had a net negative effect.
Before I get into this, there is an obligatory disclosure. There were countless people, from the top to the bottom of that organization, who undobutebly did yeoman’s work. Be that spending their whole days volunteering or making numerous sacrifices, there were hundreds — some of which I personally know — who put in a great deal of work striving toward, what I believe was, an honorable cause. But none of that discounts the fact that the strategy employed by Battleground Texas was indisputably awful.
As the Observer article delineates (I highly recommend reading it), Battleground Texas siphoned money away from other deserving beneficiaries, namely the Texas Democratic Party, and appears to have squandered it. Their top-down approach, with its over-reliance on rosy numbers and optimistic prognostications, is eerily reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Party’s bureaucratic management during the Great Leap Forward. Of course, I’m not trying to flippantly make light of a famine by comparing it to a tougher-than-expected loss suffered by Texas Democrats, but the principle is the same. These tactics lead to dishonesty and spin until some type of cataclysm unveiled the truth.
I noted, ahead of the election, that if Wendy Davis, who the Democrats nominated for governor, did not crack 40%, then Battleground Texas would disappear, merely becoming a lamentation of drunken staffers at Capitol Hill bars. Well, Davis didn’t crack 40 percent (she didn’t even make it to 39), and yet Battleground Texas is still here. I suppose it will limp along into the future for perhaps another year or two, but if it is ever taken seriously again, that would be a profound mistake.
With all that pleasantness out of the way, the underlying question pegged in the headline still remains: what should Texas Democrats do? To put it evocatively, give up. Wave the white flag. Forget about competing at a statewide level because, in most of the political class’ lifetimes, it simply will not happen. Rather, instead of humoring the delusions of grandeur within the Austin elite, the concerted effort among progressives in this state should be on grassroots building at the local levels. Specifically, this means turning Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston) and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties blue. The cornerstone of that is finding suitable candidates to run for all the open offices and then supporting them with money. Battleground Texas actively took money away from these local efforts, especially here in Harris County. Why didn’t they held the overworked and underfunded Harris County Democratic Party fill all the judicial offices?
As an aside, what should be next for Wendy Davis? A few days ago, The Dallas Morning News reported that her big flop back in February to support open carry was just a total lie that she fabricated in a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to curry favor from the pro-gun crowd in the election. Still, as the Houston Chronicle reported, Davis intends to run for office in the future. Personally, my reaction is “thanks but no thanks.”
Davis has always struck me as a dedicated and effective public servant, but the truth is that she makes a lousy politician. She isn’t articulate, she isn’t especially charismatic in front of cameras and she doesn’t think on her feet very well or quickly. Sound bites are anathema to her, and debates are even worse. Worst of all, she appears to have been ordered around by misguided campaign staff, leading to a ship sailing along with anyone competent at the helm for much of 2014. But all of that pales in comparison to what makes Davis an atrocious future pick: she lost bad. Davis will always indelibly be linked to that 20-point whooping, and it will not do the Democrats any favors. They need to move on.
And they also need to move on from statewide politics, for the time being. Breitbart Texas recently accused the Democrats of “abandoning” said politics while “retreating” to municipalities. It evoked strong reactions from the usual suspects. But perhaps it isn’t that bad of an idea.
No matter how many marathons you participate in, if you only run marathons, you won’t ever do all that well. You have to start small, running shorter distances, and only moving on when you have mastered those simpler tasks. Texas Democrats need to do the same thing.