Texas is ground zero for the fight for and against a border wall. The state has the longest border with Mexico of any American state which is why President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on that border is of vital importance to the Lone Star state. On March 14, 2019, the United States Senate voted by a margin of 59-41 to reject Donald Trump’s national emergency, which was crafted to allow spending on Trump’s border wall. Twelve Republican Senators joined with all 47 Democrats to oppose Trump on the vote.
Trump’s border wall will cause major disruptions in the state, including the unconstitutional seizing of private land. A February 2109 Quinnipiac poll showed Texas voters disapproved of Trump’s national emergency to fund the border wall by a margin of 60% – 39%. Ignoring the will of Texas citizens, the state’s two United States Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted to support the Trump-created emergency.
Cornyn and Cruz were two of only three members of Congress who represent the border to support Trump on the national emergency. Arizona’s newly-appointed Senator Martha McSally was the other. Meanwhile, their fellow Texas Republican Congressman, Will Hurd, who represents the longest stretch of border of any member, voted to block Trump’s emergency and has consistently voted against wall funding.
Trump has ensured that immigration issues will be central to the 2020 campaign in Texas when John Cornyn is also running for reelection.
Immigration has been a central issue for Texans for decades but leaders at the state level have begun to push more anti-immigrant policies. In 2017, the Republican-controlled legislature passed SB 4, an anti-immigrant bill signed into law by Governor Abbott. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken the lead in filing lawsuits to block pro-immigrant policies like DAPA and the incredibly successful DACA program, which benefits hundreds of thousands of Texas youth.
At the federal level, Cornyn and Cruz have marched in lock step with Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
This rightward march is at odds with the fact that the politics of Texas are changing. The idea that Texas is a reliably red state was tested in 2018 and the trend is not in the direction of the GOP. Sen. Cruz won his reelection by less than 3 points in a race that, at the start of 2018, was not expected to be as tight.. And now Sen. Cornyn is on the ballot in 2020. The electorate he’ll face is much different than his last statewide race in 2014.
Besides the tight race for Senate, down-ballot Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats when Lizzie Panill-Fletcher defeated John Culberson in Houston and Colin Allred beat Pete Sessions in Dallas. In six other districts, which were severely gerrymandered by Republicans, GOP candidates received less than 51% of the vote. Texas is very much in play.
In 2018, Donald Trump led the GOP’s campaign with a vehemently anti-immigrant message which was echoed in Texas. Trump repeatedly invoked anti-immigrant messages at each campaign stop around the country. At an October campaign event for Cruz in Houston, PBS noted that Trump “escalated” his already extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric:
President Donald Trump escalated his immigration rhetoric at a midterm rally in Texas on Monday, falsely accusing Democrats of “encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overwhelm our nation.”
That was also the event where Trump declared himself a “nationalist.”
Cruz ran an anti-immigrant ad against his challenger Beto O’Rourke that hit most of the same themes as Trump and other GOP ads of the last cycle. On election day, Cruz defeated O’Rourke by a margin of 50.9 to 48.3 percent. Democrats picked up two U.S. House seats and 12 state house seats.
Nate Cohn of the New York Times analyzed the 2018 election results from Texas in a piece titled, “Why Texas Is Nearing Battleground Status (It’s Not Just About Beto)”. He wrote about what it could mean for 2020:
Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.
On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.
At SXSW this year, Matt Barreto from Latino Decisions presented new data on turnout in Texas and discussed the implications for 2020. He noted that there are approximately 4 million Latino voters who are registered and non-voters (1,677,000), eligible but not registered (2,043,0000), or who are about to turn 18 (393,786). Of note, Texas Republicans have passed many laws that make voting more challenging, but state law does require high schools to provide eligible students the opportunity to register to vote twice a year.
Heading into 2020, Trump has insured that immigration will be a critical issue. It will again be the key message of his campaign. And, Cornyn will march in lockstep with him, even if it undermines his constituents.
Texas Election Eve poll results
To build Trump’s border wall, the process of seizing of public land has already begun. On March 19, 2019, NPR reported “more than 570 landowners in two counties, Hidalgo and Starr, have received right-of-entry letters from the government asking to survey their land for possible border wall construction.” Many of those landowners have vowed to fight the Trump administration in court, insuring this aspect of the border wall fight will be front and center over the next few months and into 2020.
Cornyn has a long history of double-speak on immigration. In 2011, America’s Voice named him the Biggest Hypocrite on the issue. But, his ability to say one thing and do another have been exposed because of Trump. There is no wiggle room, no grey area, no room for obfuscation. Cornyn is on Team Trump’s immigrant-bashing bandwagon all the way.
For perspective on how immigration issues are viewed by voters in Texas, we rely on our 2018 Election Eve poll in the state, which confirmed that support for immigration issues and backlash to the GOP’s toxic messaging were key factors for voters of color.
The 2018 poll was conducted by Latino Decisions, Asian American Decisions, and the African American Research Collaborative.. The poll examined how African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American, and White voters engaged in the 2018 midterm elections. The poll included a survey of House battleground districts, a national survey of Native American voters, and state polls in Texas and five other states: California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona. The poll was based on randomly selected voters across the entire state or congressional district, giving all voters an equal chance to participate. These voters comprise a majority of the Texas population, and more than a third of the electorate.
In 2018, the Texas poll again surveyed Latino voters but expanded to included full samples of Asian-American /Pacific Islander (AAPI) and African American voters. These voters comprise a majority of the Texas electorate.
In the 2018 election for U.S. Senate, our poll found Democrat O’Rourke secured 74% of the Latino electorate, 86% of Black voters, and 66% of AAPI voters.
Trump and his racist rhetoric had an impact. We asked “has Donald Trump – because of the kind of person he is or because of something he has done or said, ever made you feel disrespected?” The results were a strong yes: 66% of Latino voters, 78% of Black voters, and 67% of AAPI voters agreed. When respondents were asked if Trump ever made them feel angry, the results were also very strong, with 68% of Latino, 73% of Black, and 67% of AAPI voters agreeing.
We also asked a question about “toxic rhetoric,” which had been on full display in Texas via ads and presidential campaign stops. When asked if this statement is definitely true, probably true, probably NOT true, or definitely not true: “Trump and the Republicans are using toxic rhetoric to divide us from one another.” Large majorities found it true. For Latino voters, that was 77%, for Black voters it was 85%, and AAPI voters 70%.
Another question asked: “During the 2018 election candidates said many different things about immigration. Which statement on immigration do you agree with more?”
Agreement was low on the statement “America has too many illegal immigrants, they hurt the economy, bring crime and gang violence to our cities. We have to crack down on illegal immigration.” Only 17% of Latino voters, 27% of Black voters, and 32% of AAPI voters agreed.
For the statement, “Immigrants just want to provide a better life for their families, just like you and me. I support legislation to make America more welcoming to immigrants,” agreement was was very high. 79% of Latino voters, 71% of Black voters, and 66% of AAPI voters agreed.
There was strong support for the Dream Act, a policy represented in a bill just introduced in the House of Representatives in early March. When asked if Congress should pass the bill to allow young undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children the chance to live and work legally in the United States and eventually earn a path to citizenship, results were:
Despite the fact that Texas has the second largest number of DACA recipients in the country, after California, neither Cruz nor Cornyn have done anything to assist with legislative fixes. In fact, both have worked aggressively to undermine any chance of passing legislation to address the problem.
Finally, Texas voters strongly rejected the GOP’s divide and distract strategy and, instead, demonstrated that they want immigration solutions. Respondents were asked if they agreed that an important reason to vote in 2018 was the following: “In 2018, many Republicans made attacks on immigrants’ part of their campaigns. It’s obvious we need to reform our policies but calling immigrants rapists and gang members accomplishes nothing. Congress should work together on bipartisan immigration reform and immigration put the issue to rest, and address important issues like improving wages, lowering the cost of health care so we have more money in our pocket.” There was overwhelming agreement among the three groups surveyed. For Latino voters, 84% agreed while 11% disagreed; for Black voters, 93% agreed while 6% disagreed; and for AAPI voters, 89% agreed and 9% disagreed.
All in all, Texas is shifting, and it might just be enough to defeat John Cornyn in 2020.