Paul Burka has a post up in which he basically makes two arguments:
- Republicans are trying to Gerrymander white Democrats out of Congress; and
- “Almost no one has done as much damage to the Democratic cause” in Texas as Lloyd Doggett.
He is mistaken, to differing degrees, in both beliefs.
As for the first, Republicans are trying to Gerrymander as many Democrats as possible out of their congressional seats, white, black, Hispanic or purple, just as Democrats ruthlessly Gerrymandered Republicans out of congressional seats when they had control of redistricting. (Remember, Texas never had as many as three Republicans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives at the same time until James M. Collins joined George H. W. Bush and Bob Price in 1969, despite Texas voters preferring Republican Presidential candidates in 1928, 1952, and 1956.) It’s just that the Voting Rights Act makes it so much easier to do it against white Democrats than minority Democrats.
As for the second, anyone who has been reading this blog for any appreciable length of time should realize that I have no particular fondness for Rep. Doggett. However, laying the lion’s share of the Democratic Party’s precipitous decline in Texas at the feet of Doggett’s unsuccessful Senate campaign is both misguided and deeply ahistorical.
First of all, it was a lot less obvious in 1984 that Doggett was too liberal to win (though he was) than the fact that nobody was going to beat Phil Gramm. After Democrats threw him off the House Budget Committee for supporting the Kemp-Roth tax cuts and co-sponsoring the Gramm-Latta budget reconciliation bill, Gramm resigned from his House seat and ran for it again as a Republican, winning overwhelmingly and turning himself into a folk hero for doing so. In the Republican primary he creamed Robert Mosbacher, Jr. and Ron Paul, and then thumped Doggett by 900,000 votes. Nobody was going to beat Gramm that year, even if Kent Hance had managed to defeat Doggett. And remember that after losing to Doggett in the Democratic Primary, Hance switched to the Republican Party the very next year. Even back then, it was apparent that conservatives had no future in the Democratic Party.
Further, fingering Doggett as the cause of the Texas Democratic Party’s decline ignores the pronounced decline in the fortunes of the Democratic Party in every state south of the Mason-Dixon line over the last 32 years, as the so-called “Reagan Democrats” have fled the party in droves in both the South and Midwest thanks to its unwavering drive for bigger government and higher taxes. That can be laid at Doggett’s feet only insofar as he was one of several hundred Democratic elites pushing their party relentlessly left, no matter the electoral cost.
And as for Burka’s starting that “How could [Doggett] have had so little self-awareness as to not know that he had was too liberal to win a statewide race?”, two points:
There’s a reason they have elections: you never know with 100% surety how they’ll turn out until they actually occur. Remember the infamous Newsweek poll that had Walter Mondale leading Reagan by 18 points right after the Democratic National Convention? Here’s another way to ask the question: “Shouldn’t Bill Clinton have known that Bush was invulnerable when he got into the Presidential race in 1991?” Nor did Doggett’s liberalism keep him from being elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1988.
Second, not recognizing that Democrats have become too liberal for the general electorate is by no means limited to Doggett; indeed, it is arguably the defining characteristic of the modern Democratic Party. For years they’ve been listening to the likes of John P. Judis and Ruy Teixeira proclaiming them the country’s “natural majority party,” and there was no shortage of Democratic triumphalism confidently predicting how the Republican Party was “finished” after the 2008 election, and how well Democrats were going to do in 2010 once voters realized how awesome ObamaCare was. The comforting, anesthetizing Liberal Reality Bubble conspires to let them continually “get high on their own supply,” managing to convince themselves that America the Liberal is just around the corner. Even today, even in Texas: just look at all those members of the statewise MSM lamenting that Republicans are actually following the voting public’s wishes by shrinking state government rather than listening to them and their liberal friends and raising taxes.
There are numerous reasons why the Texas Democratic Party has gone from the overwhelming majority party in Texas to a rump minority party, the biggest one being that their misguided policies of big government liberalism are objectively wrong, financially ruinous and extremely unpopular. But Doggett is only an outstanding exemplar of the problem, not the cause of it.
(PS: Also remember that in 1992, Burka was blaming the Texas Democratic Party’s decline on Bill Clinton’s unwillingness to seriously contest the state against Bush41.)