Lone Star Lunacy

And some thoughts on how a small number of voters can influence major office-holder behavior.

Texas FlagThere really are only two option that I can think of to explain the behavior of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and several other Texas elected officials (as noted in Doug Mataconis’ post):

1.  These elected officials believe this nonsense, which means that lack the basic reasoning and evidence evaluation skills that one needs to serve in high (or low) office).


2.  They believe that enough of the voters they need to win re-election are sufficiently stupid that pandering is the right move.

Option 1 simply speaks to utter incompetence and lack of qualification to serve in office (but also speaks very poorly of the voters who put those individuals in office).

Option 2 speaks to profound level of cynicism that likewise speaks to a lack of qualification of holding a position of public trust.

I am increasingly interested in the way in which the primary process influences US party behavior and I can’t help but wonder the role that it is playing here.   Along those lines I would note that option 2 does not mean that these individuals think that a majority of the state need to be so assuaged, but that some significant percentage of the primary electorate does.  Keep in mind only 7.18% of the voting age population participated in the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary in 2014  (and only 3.98% in the GOP runoff).  That means a very small percentage of the population can have a profound effect on nomination processes.  (For comparison, the general election turnout was 24.99%–still pretty darn anemic).

I cannot say with absolute certainty that these numbers are what enter into the minds of people like Abbot, Cruz, and company, but it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that our nomination processes are actually undercutting democratic outcomes if by “democratic outcomes” one means elections that are actually at least somewhat representative of the overall population.  At a minimum the primary process, especially with the kind of turnout numbers in question, don’t exactly lend themselves to candidates who have to make broad appeals to win (quite the opposite).

Another hypothesis (which could be an alternative, but may be reinforcing to the primary suggestion):  the elite of the Texas GOP is, in fact, populated by extremists (and/or the donors and other voices that Abbott hears on a regular basis are extremists).

Certainly this kind of behavior further undercuts the notion of the so-called “conservative” party being the sober, responsible one.*

Another truly weird thing about this situation:  I thought that the one part of the federal government (and one of the main parts of US society) that Republicans trusted above all else was the US military and now some of them are talking about the need to monitor their activities.

Ultimately I have to concur with the sentiment of a letter from a former member of the Texas state legislature, Republican Todd Smith:

“I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do,” Smith wrote.

“I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by those who instead make decisions based on internet or radio shock jock driven hysteria,” he added. “Is there ANYBODY who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is cancer on our State and Party?”

An excellent question.

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    In the case of Ted Cruz, yes, I do think that he believes his supporters to be easily manipulated dimwits, and yes, he is pandering to them.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Republican Todd Smith: “I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by those who instead make decisions based on internet or radio shock jock driven hysteria,” he added. “Is there ANYBODY who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is cancer on our State and Party?”

    Well, it seems that the cancer has a very good chance of winning control of our federal government. It makes sense in the context of a very radical reaction to the election of a moderate Black president, one whom the opposition party (over 50% of which) has not accepted as legitimately elected since January 2009.

  3. Gustopher says:

    This is just another example of that old rule of thumb: nothing good comes from Texas.

    It’s what Florida would be if Florida Man (as in “Florida man bites police car, causes $600 damage”, etc) were to hold elected office.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher: I’m going to retire to FL in a year or so. The frequent appearance of “Florida man” in the news is very disquieting.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I have slowly evolved my default position on the “Stupid Or Evil?” debate from “Both” to “It doesn’t matter.”

    And this is why I will never vote Republican again until there is a sea change within the party. The people peddling this should be mocked by mainstream Republicans, rather than embraced. Do they believe it, or do they just embrace the support of the lunatic fringe? It doesn’t matter, I will donate and vote to oppose them either way.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I think Florida gets a bad rap. I’m sure there is a New Hampshire Man and a Vermont Man, and there is absolutely a California Man.

  7. michael reynolds says:


    I assume you’ve seen or heard this.

  8. Pete S says:

    @CSK: He only believes it because it is true. His supporters are easily manipulated dimwits.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Reminding me of the explanation of California a taxicab driver driving me from the SFO airport gave me: “You see, all the nuts kept going west, and then they ran out of places to go.”

  10. Rob Prather says:

    In what way are these Texas Republicans any different from the John Birch Society? You have to squint really hard to see a difference.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    Texas just elected a governor that makes Rick Perry look like a genius. Perry himself made George W. Bush look good. My brother has lived in Texas for 6 years and has had and is moving back to Oregon.
    Your comments on voter turnout are spot on and we need to reevaluate how we do elections in this country. Here in Oregon we have been 100% vote by mail for over a decade and have the highest voter turnout in the country.

  12. J-Dub says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Why would TX Republicans want higher turnout? They would probably be voted out of office if even half the Hispanics voted.

  13. Cd6 says:

    The more tragic thing is that these nincompoops attack education as well, ensuring the next generation has plenty of undereducated voters in waiting. This is a self perpetuating cycle.

  14. CSK says:

    @Pete S:

    Cruz’s supporters are the kind of people who are desperate for a messiah. They thought Palin would be IT, but she made a career as a reality show starlet. All he has to do is say the kind of things they want to hear.

  15. Outgroup says:

    It’s unfortunate that the Professor seemingly did not bother to read the Washington Post article I cited in my comment earlier, where I wrote,

    “Is there really much news here? As a Washington Post article explains, Abbott merely sent the State Guard (not the National Guard) to observe the military maneuvers.

    The Washington Post story also explains why, for safety reasons, it’s a good idea for state officials to know about and keep tabs on these exercises:


    Properly handled, the exercises might be an economic boon to some communities.”

  16. James Pearce says:

    “Certainly this kind of behavior further undercuts the notion of the so-called “conservative” party being the sober, responsible one.”

    The GOP hasn’t been the “sober, responsible” party since the 90s, and they’ve been mostly unhinged since at least 2003.

    Example: Recently in my state, a psycho cut a pregnant lady’s baby from her womb. The lady survived, but the baby did not. Shockingly, there was no way to charge the perpetrator for murder, even though she basically murdered this baby.

    The Colorado Republicans, seeking to remedy this situation, put forth a fetal protection bill. It seems to me a reasonable response. However, the Republicans cannot be trusted to keep their “culture of life” nonsense out of it, so the Dems voted it down.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:


    nothing good comes from Texas.

    Wrong. Molly Ivins. And my mother. The jury is still out on me.

  18. @Outgroup: The first line of Abbott’ letter is “To address concerns of Texas citizens…” The only citizens who have concerns are those who are buying into the conspiracy theories.

    This is blatant pandering.

  19. JohnMcC says:

    @Outgroup: Well, I admit that nothing I’d seen about this ‘controversy’ made me think that the WaPo would shed light that would make Texas seem less crackpot so I didn’t look up your link. Shame on me. So now I did. And I wonder if your insistence that the article is important indicates that you agree with Gov Abbott that the Texas militia ‘monitoring’ is really important to Texans “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties”? Or maybe you are saying that the militia is going to keep Sheriff’s deputies and Spec Force soldiers from shooting each other like the article says happened in 2002?

    Not trying to bust your chops. Actually wondering if you see something in the article than I don’t.

  20. Likewise the letter states “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Option 2 speaks to profound level of cynicism that likewise speaks to a lack of qualification of holding a position of public trust.

    Option 2 could also speak to a profound level of cowardice.

    One other thing, it has been said that South Carolina is too small to be a country and too big to be an insane asylum. Texas has put the lie to that. What is worse is the inmates have taken over.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Bless you. Gawd I miss Molly Ivins. A tragedy she didn’t live to take on Ted Cruz.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: I was reading some of her columns the other day so now when the latest crazy comes out of Texas I immediately thought, “What would Molly say?” She was a treasure.

  24. Lynn says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Wrong. Molly Ivins. And my mother. The jury is still out on me.”

    And Ann Richards.

  25. Rob Prather says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: You might want to throw Ann Richards in with Molly Ivins and your mom.

  26. @Gustopher:

    nothing good comes from Texas.

    Hey! I’m trying here.

  27. Rob Prather says:

    @Lynn: you beat me by three minutes!

  28. gVOR08 says:

    Clearly Republican primaries are the driver of this stuff. Apparently no matter how RW you are, there’s always space to your right. Especially if you’ve made compromises, i.e. actually governed anything.

    But the primaries wouldn’t be this way without the Right Wing Echo Chamber. I’ve spoken before about the “positive feedback loop” on the right. The radio talkers and their audience drive each other further and further out. This forces the pols to pander to the crazy, which legitimizes the crazy, and the pols, the audience, and the talkers drive each other further right. It’s hard to believe it can get much worse without arriving at the wingularity, where it all collapses on itself, but I bet it will.

    Let’s not pretend, however, that this is a Tea Party fringe situation. The Billionaire Boys Club. The Koch Bros, the Club for Growth, Grover Norquist, etc. are the Republican establishment. But they care only about key issues. They will fund a challenger, no matter how nuts, as long as he’ll vote against the DEATH TAX!!!(tm), for carried interest, and help stave off any action on AGW.

  29. John D'Geek says:

    Sorry, folks — this is part-and-parcel of military-civilian relations. Every post has conspiracy theories in the civilian population surrounding it — Democrat and Republican. When visiting one well-known post, I was warned not to tell the locals why I was there. They wouldn’t believe me … it would just add to their large number of conspiracy theories.

    I have my suspicions as to what the military is really doing in Texas (Hint: it has nothing to do with the North-American continent), but that makes no difference. I know what that huge tower does in a post surrounded almost entirely by Liberal Democrats, but they won’t believe me either. It really is simple and innocuous, but that’s not good enough. It has to be some sort of conspiracy.

    “Can’t be — gotta be more to it.”


    It’s not a Republican/Democrat thing. It’s not a Conservative/Liberal thing. The difference is that this one hit the papers; the others are ignored.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: I hadn’t. Thank you. I’ll refrain from forwarding it to my wife.

  31. @John D’Geek:

    It’s not a Republican/Democrat thing. It’s not a Conservative/Liberal thing. The difference is that this one hit the papers; the others are ignored.

    That there are paranoid people across the spectrum is true. The issue here is not so much that as it is the governor of our second largest state and one of its senators helping feed what ought to be left to Am radio talk shows at 1am.

    Crazy talk is one thing. Crazy talk being given a patina of respectability by high ranking officials is wholly another.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Lynn: @Rob Prather: You guys are right. My bad.

  33. bookdragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Amen and amen

  34. stonetools says:

    BTW, its not only Texas. Here comes South Carolina:

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is not a linguist.

    “Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news,” Graham said at a dinner in Boston on Monday with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to investigative journalist Uri Blau.

    Graham was referencing the Arabic word for “the.”

    “Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula,” he continued. He went on to discuss U.S. relations with Israel and the Arab world, threatening the funding of the United Nations if it “marginalized” Israel.

    Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

  35. @stonetools: Don’t forget: Al gebra.

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: For Algorithm, or Alcohol, or Alkali…..

    I do wish that a merry prankster would ask Graham since all the Al- stuff is bad, is he running on a platform to bring back Prohibition and get rid of lithium batteries?

  37. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Graham’s late parents ran a beer store, so he doesn’t think everything that begins with “al” is bad – at least in the U.S.

  38. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: Yeah, like Al Capone. Wait a minute…..

  39. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m sure you’re aware that math has a well known liberal bias.

  40. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think you’re underestimating how many people believe that crazy talk. It’s not a hand-full, it’s a sizable amount. I don’t mean I run into someone once-in-a-while, I’m constantly running into them.

    I suspect that the differentiating factor here isn’t the state or the governor, but the size of the operation. This is, of course, exasperated by the strong tension between strongly-Republican states and the current administration; but, TBH, I see the same kind of crazy (albeit without the National Guard) when the tables are reversed.

    But, yeah, the Governor of Texas should have handled this one better.

  41. @John D’Geek: I accept that there are a large number of people that believe any number of things. However, can you think of another example where they were pandered to at this level?

  42. Tony W says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: And Babes Chicken.

  43. anjin-san says:

    @John D’Geek:

    I see the same kind of crazy (albeit without the National Guard) when the tables are reversed.


  44. R.Dave says:

    Yeah, I know more than a few lefties who think the VRWC and the military-industrial complex are the drivers of pretty much every policy decision they dislike, and I can’t think of any example of a leftie conspiracy theory about local military posts or exercises. I’ve literally never even heard one espoused, so I’d be curious what examples John D’Geek has in mind.

  45. John D'Geek says:

    I’m thinking of PAL. It’s basically just a weather tower — but no one believes that.

    Granted, Gov. Christie didn’t call out the National Guard to check it out …

    @anjin-san: I lost track of the number of people around here that seriously thought that President Bush (2) was trying to become His Royal Highness, King George II. Then again, if you do a google search on “New Jersey” and “Corruption” I’m pretty sure you’ll be told these are redundant, so that will influence their perceptions.

  46. John D'Geek says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If you switch from Military Conspiracy to Big Business Conspiracy or Anti-Environment Conspiracy, etc., then yeah.

  47. @John D’Geek: I think we are discussing different orders of magnitude here.

  48. Lit3Bolt says:

    When you think the bar can’t go any lower…

    What’s next? Are they going to ban fluoride in the water? Worship UFOs and space aliens? Hoot and shriek when they see an open flame? (And yes, some on the left do this too, except they’re not major elected officials. Context!)

    This makes me long for the days of “take the money and run” Republicans. They can’t even do that. They’re acting so profoundly stupid that they’re undercutting any legitimacy they have. And those who don’t think saying profoundly stupid stuff in politics matters, welcome to the internet and Youtube and Twitter. Seriously, are they trying to groom another Timothy McVeigh?