Note: This post was edited after publication to add the word not in the sentence beginning “that’s not a shot against him” to add the omitted word.
This post just as easily could have been entitled considerations for the county party’s future, for that’s what was at stake in the last primary election in the county party chair. The two candidates had two distinct visions, and we all saw what the outcome was. The past is the past, and this post isn’t to assign blame or declare what my personal preference on intraparty machinations should have been, for nothing can be done about what transpired in April and on November 8. Rather, this is a look at what the election data tells us in hopes of giving constructive considerations for the necessary change in the county party’s direction. Some have asked that the longer posts have a “take away” at the end. This post has one.
How big is the problem?
Big Jolly made a nice table looking at the vote from 2008, 2012, and 2016. Sometimes it’s easier to draw conclusions if we look at the same data in a different form. Here’s a graph of the data limited to county positions only.
The average Democrat vote was 663,445.
The average Republican vote was 604,656.2.
The average difference was 58,788.8, or 58,799 votes needed to flip the outcome.
Adding 58,799 Republican votes would have changed 15 of the 30 races considered.
Adding 58,799 Republican votes would have left 6 of the 30 races competitive (5,000 or less difference.) (4D and 2R.)
That’s a mathematical hokey-pokey dance to arrive at the conclusion that Republicans should be able to win 13-19 of the 30 county wide seats if the vote average was the same by party.
Are the votes there?
Before looking at what can be done, we must first ask are the votes there? Looking at the Presidential year elections offers little guidance. In 2008, the Obama wave election saw the democrats sweep the county. In 2012, the anti-Obama turnout saw an even split county wide (as shown in Big Jolly’s chart above.) This cycle was another democrat sweep in a highly muddled cycle. However, this cycle, while chaotic nationally, seems to be fairly representative, on the county level, of current voting patterns.
Clinton won the county by a much higher margin than the county wide races suggesting that the never Trump voters split their tickets, leaving the county wide races largely representative of the current voter composition in a Presidential election year. Looking at the last mayoral election results further supports this conclusion. In Harris County, Turner tallied 586 more votes than King, a 0.2% greater showing. The city is evenly split with the dedicated voters, and the strong republican areas outside the city are balanced by the casual democrat city voter that comes out in the Presidential cycles more so than midterm cycles. The data suggests the votes are there for the midterm elections, and that a Presidential year is within striking range.
The primary’s options examined.
What can HCRP do to obtain 58,799 votes? The enemy of GOTV efforts is apathy. Is the marginal voter able to be motivated to go to the polls? The primary pitted GOTV versus expanding the base as the two avenues to prevail. GOTV won the day in April, so while the GOTV effort could have been better it’s reasonable to assume that the GOTV effort is operating at a high level. Can the GOTV effort squeeze out another 58,799 votes? The average vote count was 1,268,101 meaning GOTV would have to produce another 4.6% Republican vote. This seems a tall order in the presence of what was supposed to be a concentrated GOTV effort, but I don’t know enough details about the GOTV effort to draw conclusions.
The other option was to expand our message to widen the voting base. The enemy of expanding the message to a new base is inertia. To expand the base isn’t simply a matter of motivation, but rather it is a matter of persuasion. This option has an initial benefit of, if successful, it likely flips a vote from democrat to republican leaving a lower total vote needed. A secondary benefit is that the effort will necessarily create some degree of cognitive dissonance in the process.
Approaching someone with a propensity to vote democrat with a message of how republican values align with their values creates some cognitive dissonance if the message takes root to any degree. For some “I can’t decide” means not voting. Since the vote otherwise would have been democrat this has the same net effect as turning out a vote with GOTV efforts. This isn’t voter suppression; it’s driving up the number of undecided voters. If a formerly democrat but now undecided voter doesn’t vote it’s not a flip, but it is one vote closer.
The many moving parts.
The opportunity to be successful on the county level is present, but we are our own worst enemy. The number of, and tension between, the various factions in the county party leave the task at hand much more difficult than need be. Social conservatives have a different fiscal view than tea party members. Some social conservatives have a tendency to not vote if the candidate isn’t socially conservative enough. A faction of the tea party is simply difficult to deal with and often times not able to be worked with. Both factions get to the same outcome – not voting – by different routes. The question is how much harm do they do to the party via intraparty squabbling in the process. Add in the new Trump voters and the it’s now three different base philosophical views.
Outside of basic philosophical differences within the party there’s the tension between the big money and/or slates versus ground game factions. This is an area I try to steer clear of, so someone else can articulate the difference better. The two don’t coexist well, and both suffer for the ill will that has grown over the past few cycles. In the end, it takes both money and boots on the ground to make HCRP both fiscally and operationally sound.
Regarding expanding the base, if the goal is to approach minority groups then a new tension develops. Not only does the messaging need to appeal to the groups approached, but needs to be constructed in a way not to be off putting to voters already in the tent. This holds true both in the new versus established voter, and also in the sense that changing messaging to appeal to a different segment of minority voters could alienate minority voters already in the tent.
For example, a softer tone on immigration would remove a stumbling block to many Hispanic and Filipino voters, but could alienate Trump supporters as well as current Hispanic, and to a lesser extent Filipino, voters in the tent who agree with taking a hard line on immigration because they went through the process legally and don’t want to see illegal immigration rewarded. Swapping out voters is a net loss since the established voters are more likely to participate while the voters courted are less likely to participate or even stay if the intraparty message becomes muddled.
Another consideration is the Trump voters. While some were already in the tent others are newly exposed to republican ideas. These voters could be persuaded to stay in the tent now that they are here. However, many also come with a distinctly different mindset than current republican voters. We need to reach out to and engage with these new voters in order to not only extend a hand of welcome, but also to learn from each others beliefs to find common ground in which to make the new voter feel at ease and welcome in the party.
It takes a hydra.
Simpson doesn’t have the skill set to navigate all these waters. That’s not a shot against him, for if any of his primary challengers had won the same statement would apply. No one has the skill set to navigate all these waters. As a party, we have become too fractured, and have too many petty elements, for anyone to be able to individually be successful in dealing with all the factions. It’s going to take several individuals coming together to promote the party and facilitate smoother interactions between the various factions to be successful in the near future. The question HCRP faces is does Simpson have the humility and grace to accept that his vision is insufficient? If so, does he have enough vision to draw up a comprehensive plan to address all the crosswise considerations? If he does, is there sufficient goodwill available for him to assemble a team to implement his plan?
(Fill in the blank) moves downhill/downstream.
We all know what goes in the blank. The guy at the top gets the credit in good times, and takes the blame in bad times. In good times, this allows marginal leaders times to either develop the needed leadership skills to be successful or to remain in power long enough to do harm that manifests when the tide turns. The opposite is also true, in bad times good leaders can be removed as well as bad leaders. This means a transition must occur and in the process valuable time and resources are expended on the transition that are better spent on promoting the vision if the underlying plan is fundamentally sound.
Right now HCRP has a post election war spinning up. I don’t know if Simpson is the man for the job. That’s not saying I doubt him, but rather saying that the question is unsettled. He prevailed in April, so rather than have a war about is Simpson the man for the job he should be afforded an opportunity, in short order, to lay out a comprehensive plan for how he intends to address the problems the party faces including how he will work with all the different factions and who his lieutenants in the effort will be. If the plan is viable, and he has enough goodwill left in the tank to execute the plan, staying the course leadership-wise is the less disruptive course of action.
However, HCRP also needs to be ready to act if he is unwilling to acknowledge mistakes or formulate a viable plan going forward. To that end, those who seek to replace him should also formulate a plan covering the same areas so the choices available for replacement are visible and can be evaluated should Simpson be unable or unwilling to come up with a viable vision for the future.
2018 doesn’t have to be a disaster like 2008 or 2016. The fundamentals in the county are not so stacked against the GOP that county wide seats are a lost cause leaving the task at hand building for the future. 2018 is critical to the party’s future though. Another disastrous showing and it becomes difficult to overcome both the conventional wisdom that the county is blue along with the daunting challenge of dislodging incumbents. Whatever path HCRP chooses to take needs to be chosen quickly.
The election was a disaster on the county level, but it was also close. The average was a 4.6% difference in votes, which is within striking range if the party corrects course going forward. Using the mayoral election as a proxy for committed voters the city is split – Turner only held a 0.2% advantage. This places the outside the city republican areas against the casual democrat city voter where the races are won and lost. With midterm elections usually generating lower turnout the fundamentals are in place for success in 2018.
No one has the skill set to effectively deal with all the factions in HCRP right now. Simpson won the primary and should be given the opportunity to, in short order, develop a plan forward including how to integrate the various factions and who his lieutenants in this effort will be. If he can come up with a viable plan then the party is better served by keeping him in charge as the time, resources, and goodwill spent fighting an intraparty war are better spent on winning in 2018. Since he may be unwilling or unable (or too damaged) to come up with a viable plan others interested in his position should do the same since time is of the essence.