You may have read that headline and thought, “What’s the big deal?” It’s the junior Republican senator representing Texas endorsing the re-election of the senior Republican senator representing Texas. Fair enough. This is press release newsworthy, though, because it is the first time it has happened.
Nothing like a very close election – the closest in 40 years in Texas – to focus a politician’s mind. Computer inboxes were inundated with the news, including mine. The Texas Tribune piece was referenced as confirmation of the story. Senator Cornyn, the current Senate Majority Whip, is seeking a fourth term.
Full disclosure: in 2008 I was an unpaid, volunteer blogger for Senator Cornyn’s re-election. I am a longtime supporter of the senator.
Ted Cruz did not endorse Cornyn in 2014 for re-election. During the primary season, he decided to remain neutral. At the time the junior senator was busy keeping himself in the headlines and about to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary. This was the time period between the government shutdown in 2013 and Cruz entering the GOP primary in 2015. The last thing he wanted to do was to endorse an “establishment” Republican over a Tea Party-style challenger during Cornyn’s primary race. So, Cruz took the safe route. No endorsement. Initially, Cornyn took a pass on endorsing Cruz in his re-election bid. Given their history, turnabout is fair play. However, as the race heated up and with the development of Democrat interest in the race, Cornyn changed course and endorsed Cruz. He also did fundraising for him and campaigned around the state for him. He went all in for Cruz. Cornyn’s support was seen as a bridge between loyal Cruzers and Republican voters who have been turned off by Cruz since his presidential primary bid.
That was then and this is now. The fact is, the two men can be an effective team working together. They don’t have to pretend to be best buddies to get the job done. Republicans in Texas have gotten complacent while winning statewide elections year after year. We just assume the Republican candidate will win the race but Cruz’s re-election race proved that even in Texas, the electorate is changing. The statewide victories entitle Republicans to continue to label Texas as the nation’s largest red state but local and county elections are a different ballgame. For several cycles now, Democrats have gained success on the local level and it is only a matter of time before everything falls into place for a Democrat to win a bigger election.
There are several factors that show a growing Democrat influence in pockets of the state of Texas. In my own Congressional district, my congressman lost to a rookie Democrat candidate. My district is one that has been represented by Republicans since George H.W. Bush’s election in 1966. Rep. John Culberson was defeated in November by Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Culberson held the office since 2000. My district is considered the most Republican of the ones in Houston, yet, here we are. Demographics, newcomers from other states, anger towards incumbents, anti-Trump sentiment, all play a part. Harris County is no longer the largest Republican county in the country.
In order for Ted Cruz to remain viable in his political aspirations, whether it is another presidential bid, a future Supreme Court nomination, or re-election to the Senate he has to transition into a Republican team player instead of priding himself on being a lone wolf, going rogue against his own party. No doubt Cruz’s endorsement of Cornyn now will ruffle feathers of loyal Cruzers who misguidedly think Senator Cornyn isn’t pure enough. I’ve heard rumblings of Republican primary challengers coming for Cornyn but that will remain to be seen, especially now given Cruz’s early move to tamp down any challenges that may arise. The signal has been sent.
The Kavanaugh hearings continue to have an effect in politics. I think the move by Cruz is also a bit of fallout from the Democrats’ behavior during that chaotic time. Cornyn and Cruz both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee and both played a strong role in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Senator Cornyn is a former Texas Attorney General (the first since Reconstruction) and state Supreme Court Justice. His steady, calm demeanor makes for a good yin and yang combo with Cruz’s personality.
I don’t see Beto O’Rourke challenging Cornyn in 2020. I think he’s focused on becoming a vice-presidential nominee or maybe the actual presidential candidate, now that he is the darling of the left. We’ll have to wait and see if he can maintain the interest and enthusiasm he garnered during his failed Senate run.