The state of Texas is firmly in Republican hands, but the Democrats want to change that.
They’re hoping for successes in the 2018 congressional elections – because the party of the president traditionally loses.
The Democrats’ best helper: Donald Trump
The Democratic Party’s office in Hill County is housed in an old trailer. Inside, it is stifling; a rattling air conditioner struggles against the early summer heat. “Everything is just temporary,” says Thomas Hanson, party chairperson of this county in the middle of Texas. Hanson is currently renovating the wooden house next to the trailer, and when he is finished, the Democratic Party will move with him into nicer spaces.
Until then, the Spartan lodgings are a fitting picture of the status of Democrats in Texas. The state is firmly in the hands of the Republicans; the conservatives here are a kind of natural force similar to the burning sun, against whom the left can at best arduously rave.
But that is set to change. The Democrats in Texas are renovating, and next year, in the congressional elections, a new, beautiful future is supposed to begin. “In 2018, we will see welcome changes,” predicts Hanson.*
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018: Democrats throughout the U.S. currently cling to this date. On this day, the so-called midterm elections take place, the congressional elections that occur between the two presidential elections. The entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate seats are up for election, and traditionally, the president’s party loses in the process.
The Democrats may hardly have any chance of retaking the Senate, but they hope for successes in the House of Representatives; and if all goes well, even a takeover in this chamber of Congress.
Not Even Jesus Christ Could Have Prevailed as a Democrat in Texas
In order to achieve this, the Democrats must, of course, win an additional boatload of seats, a net of 24. That, in turn, can only succeed if they take over some of the strongholds of the opposition in “red” Republican states like Texas.
However, the Democrats are relying on a powerful helper: President Donald Trump. The Republican president has been in office barely half a year and his approval ratings have already reached historic lows. His hardcore supporters are continuing to stick with him, but the president is no longer safe among many moderate Republicans and swing voters.
“Very many Trump voters here are thinking in the meantime, that they made a mistake,” says Hanson.*
Hanson and his party friends want to scoop up these voters, and no matter where in Texas one talks to party officials, they have a good feeling when they think about 2018. The party was in shock after Trump’s victory in November, then it sank into grief and apathy. Now the Democrats are pulling themselves together, motivated by the chaos that Trump is causing, and ready to fight against him.
“Considerably more people are coming to party meetings and wanting to volunteer; we’re getting a lot more donations,” says Mary Duty, McLennan County Democratic Chairwoman, the Hill County’s neighboring district. For the first time in 10 years, Duty has enough money and supporters to be able to maintain a permanent party office in the county capital, Waco. Before, she had to close up for a year and a half between elections.
It is also encouraging for local officials that the Democrats in Texas are finding more people who want to stand for election in the party. Recruiting candidates used to be a big problem; the Democrats were considered the losing team. “People were afraid to run,” Duty said,* and with good reason: “There were years when Jesus Christ himself could have been on the ballot for us and the voters would have voted for the Republican candidate in spite of that.”
Duty and her Democratic friends hope that has changed. “The Democratic brand has become more valuable since Trump’s election,” says Carol Donovan, Democratic chairwoman in Dallas.*
Nonetheless, it is a long way from a fight-ready Democratic Party that is ready to help in the election campaign, donate money or have someone run as a candidate and win an actual election. To win congressional seats, Democrats must win over those voters that either have not voted at all or have voted Republican up to now. And in the process, Democrats in Texas are wrestling with the question that has bothered the party as a whole since Trump’s election: Who are we and what do we want?
No one among the Democrats is setting a clear course for the party. Former President Barack Obama occasionally engages in small duels with Trump, but he is no longer leading the Democrats. There is a left-liberal, anti-capitalistic, revolutionary party wing headed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Most of the young party supporters belong to this wing, which is currently organizing demonstrations and protests against Trump everywhere, using “Resist!” as their battle cry. For them, the Democrats are a party that defends the rights of women, minorities, immigrants and Muslims, that fights for environmental protection and more social benefits.
Of course, it remains open whether the left’s ideals and goals are good enough to pull disappointed Republicans or independent voters into the Democratic camp next year. Mary Duty is not so certain about that. She laments that the Republicans succeed again and again in depicting the Democrats as elitist, unpatriotic weaklings, as people who are concerned most about homosexuals, African-Americans and illegal immigrants, and, in addition, want to take Americans’ weapons away from them.
The Democrats Must Find Answers for the Most Important Issues
In the big cities like Dallas or Austin where Democrats are successful, these are perhaps the right positions. However, for ultraconservative voters in rural Texas, this reputation harms the Democrats tremendously. “We’re the party that comes to a shooting with a café latte,” says Duty.
If the Democrats want to win in Texas, they have to talk less about niche issues, and more about things that citizens face on a daily basis, Duty says. For example, Democrats need to talk about the Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obama’s health care law, which would hit many poorer Texans hard.
Or about schools. Republicans in the Texas legislature have cut the state education budget by $5 million. Many schools no longer have money to teach foreign languages, music or art. And even worse, some schools are so broke, they can no longer afford football games. If anything is part of family life in Texas, it is a son’s Friday night football game. More votes can be won with these issues than all of the talk about Trump and Russia. Duty is convinced of this.
“We must show people what we can do for them,” Duty says. “Merely crying ‘Resist Trump’ is not enough.”*
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark could not be independently verified.