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Texas policy platform a sign of Republicans’ deepening drift to right

America Letter: Social views previously on the margins making their way into mainstream

In recent weeks US president Joe Biden on several occasions has asked voters thinking of backing his political rivals to remember: “This is not your father’s Republican Party”.

He seemed to be saying that rather than a party that traditionally was pro-business, small government and low taxation, but prepared to work pragmatically with its Democratic opponents, the Republicans were now pursuing a radical right-wing agenda.

Earlier this week, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman traced the history of the Republican Party as it moved to what he described as a position of extremism.

He pointed to the January 6th attacks last year which the current congressional committee has argued formed part of a broader scheme, directed from the top, to overturn the 2020 election result.

He highlighted Republicans essentially packing the supreme court with conservative justices who have handed down “nakedly partisan rulings on abortion and gun control”.

Krugman easily could have pointed to the policy platform adopted this month by the Republican Party in Texas.

There was a lot of focus on the measure adopted by delegates that Biden was not legitimately elected as president – essentially supporting Donald Trump’s contention for which no evidence has been produced.

However, there were also a host of other measures indicating a party moving increasingly to the right.

The platform would urge treating homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice”.

It would require students “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child”, including teaching that life begins at fertilisation.

It raised the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States, the abolition of the Federal Reserve and the repeal of the 16th amendment of 1913, which created the federal income tax.

The platform is, in general, a series of principles backed by the activist base rather than holy writ to which elected officials must adhere.

In a former life this correspondent spent a lot of time over many years sitting at the back of halls watching delegates at various conferences seeking to have their organisation adopt as policy motions that were of particular interest to them.

The view that delegates sometimes get ahead of the leadership is true. That leaders of organisations occasionally roll their eyes at what is being proposed by activists in the knowledge it will cause headaches is equally valid.

However, Dr James Henson, who teaches in the department of government at the University of Texas in Austin, suggested this week that measures once considered on the fringe are making their way into the mainstream.

He told The Irish Times that there were more elements this year in the platform “that might have seemed marginal in the past but are now closer to the mainstream of a party whose base has shifted in a rightward direction, particularly on institutional issues”.

A blog Dr Henson co-wrote this week for the Texas Politics Project at the university argued that many of the more controversial elements of the platform were not out of the ordinary but enjoyed widespread support among Texan Republicans, as evident from polling, and were not likely to be disavowed by candidates this year.

Essentially, he was suggesting it was not just a few eccentrics with their own hobby horses who managed to get the convention to back some of the more extreme positions. Rather, they reflected the opinions of many of the members.

The blog said:

“For example, the platform proposal declares ‘we oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity’, that ‘homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice’, an affirmation that United States is ‘one nation under God’ founded on Judeo-Christian principles, followed by four related policy demands.

“The lengthy section on government and election integrity urges that ‘the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ... be repealed and not reauthorised.’ In April 2022 polling, for example, 87 per cent of Texas Republicans said that ‘the sex listed on a person’s original birth certificate should be the only way to define a person’s gender’ while only nine per cent said that gay men and lesbians face ‘a lot’ of discrimination in United States today, compared to 31 per cent who said the same of Christians and 34 per cent who said the same of white people.”

The blog said that polling in February found only 22 per cent of Texas Republicans acknowledged the legitimacy of Biden’s victory in 2020.

It said also in February 63 per cent of Texan Republicans said “democracy is working poorly in the US today”. It co-related this finding with the many provisions in the party platform to increase election vigilance and put in place hurdles to voting.

It said towards the end of the Obama administration, in February 2015, 78 per cent of Texas Republicans expressed an unfavourable view of the federal government. However, in June 2019, with Trump firmly in control of the White House, half of Republicans still had a negative view of the federal government.

In February last year, the branch of government most trusted by Texas Republicans was the supreme court “chosen by 50 per cent, tellingly followed by no opinion at 39 per cent”.