The Deepening Extremism in the Lieutenant Governor Primary

Four candidates for lt. gov.
Four candidates for lt. gov.

One of the afflictions of the politics beat is that conflict is coveted and covered, even when the story is about consensus. Reporters naturally gravitate toward (and try to create) disagreements among candidates and parties. “Fight! Fight! Fight” is the mantra. That’s not a bad instinct, but what happens when all the candidates agree on something—and that something is extreme?

We have a lieutenant governor’s race on the GOP side in which the four candidates agree on certain things that not so long ago were confined to the political fringe. They are even now not mainstream beliefs (defined roughly as beliefs held by a majority or large plurality of the public) but have become rapidly de rigueur in Republican primaries. To wit:

At a televised debate this week, all four candidates (David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick, Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples) agreed that abortions should be banned even in cases of rape or incest. It was not clear if any of them would make exceptions even for the life of the mother.

Journalist Peggy Fikac asked each of them, “Do you believe that a woman should be able to choose abortion in cases of rape and incest?” and then later followed up to make sure she had a clear answer.

TODD STAPLES: “I believe that abortion should never be used as a form of birth control.”

“In extreme cases where a mother’s life is in danger then you can have a conversation about that circumstance. But as a matter of law we need to promote life.”

DAVID DEWHURST: “I believe strongly that the life of the mother has to be protected. That’s why if there’s a question about the life of the mother, I’m supportive.”

(He later made clear that he opposes exceptions for rape and incest.)

JERRY PATTERSON: “My answer is that either it is life or it’s not. To say that we have an unborn child that is the result of a rape and somehow that’s less life-y, life-like or inferior to the life that was through a natural, non-catastrophic event like that doesn’t make any sense… I do not support exceptions for rape or incest.”

DAN PATRICK: “The only exception—the only exception—would be if the life of the mother is truly endangered for that doctor and that family to make that decision of the mother and the baby. … In those rare circumstances where the life of the mother is on the line, most mothers say let my baby live.”

In other words, the likely next lieutenant governor of Texas has staked out the most extreme position possible on abortion. And notably, it’s not one shared by very many people, including Republicans. As Jim Henson and Joshua Blank with the Texas Tribune noted yesterday, “only 16 percent of Republicans (compared to 12 percent of Texans overall) said that abortion should never be permitted.”

In that Texas Tribune/UT poll, 37 percent of Texas Republicans thought abortion should either be “generally legal” or “always legal”—a group twice the size that of the absolutist position. And 41 percent took the position that abortion should be banned except in cases of rape, incest or when pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Any way you slice the data, the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor are a minority of a minority of a minority.

To prove their bona fides, all four men also took the position that Marlise Muñoz—the brain-dead pregnant Fort Worth woman who was kept on life support against her family’s wishes—should’ve been kept alive as an incubator for her 14-week-old fetus.

And their extreme positions weren’t limited to abortion. All four men have said that creationism, which has been thoroughly discredited in the courts and certainly in the sciences, should be taught in school. Their only point of disagreement was how it should be taught.

TODD STAPLES: “I believe that creationism can be taught in our public schools in social studies if it violates what the courts have said as a science because it is something that most Texans believe in.”

DAVID DEWHURST: “I am fine with teaching creationism, intelligent design and evolution. And then let the students… decide for themselves which one of the three they believe in.”

Dewhurst apparently makes a distinction between creationism and intelligent design, though the courts have seen through that ruse, agreeing that intelligent design is little more than creationism by another name.

Dan Patrick went even further, inveighing against the separation of church and state and leaving out altogether the usual canards about teaching creationism alongside evolution.

PATRICK: “Our children must really be confused. We want them to go to school on Sunday and we teach them about Jesus Christ and then they go to school on Monday—they can’t pray they can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused.”

“When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed, it should be heralded.”

Jerry Patterson was the least retrograde, holding open the possibility that creationism should perhaps be taught in a comparative religion class. But he balanced that out by staking out the most far-right position possible on guns. Asked if there should be any restrictions of any kind, Patterson said, “The one venue that I believe maybe handguns shouldn’t be there—although it kinda enhances the quality of the service—is a bar.”

To alter Barry Goldwater’s words, “Extremism in the defense of winning is no vice.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

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Published at 5:32 pm CST