Unless you have a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag in front of your home, you’ve probably never heard of Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party. But you can bet Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and lots of other top Texas Republicans have her number on speed dial.
A prominent conservative activist since 2009, Walker is part of a constellation of tea party leaders and groups around the state who are the real constituents of Texas Republicans. They have the ears of the politicians, not the business community or newspaper editorial boards or the other hoary “opinion leaders” who wield less influence than ever. They are the enforcers and counselors, the intermediaries between “The Base”—the rump of the GOP that runs this state by selecting candidates in the GOP primary—and the elected officials. They are the agents of radicalization. When people from outside the state marvel at Ted Cruz’s intransigence in the face of collapsing poll numbers and revulsion by his colleagues, just keep in mind that he is toasted as a hero by activists like Walker. And those polls are lies anyway.
“Do you really trust anything the polls have to say?” Walker asked on her radio show recently. “Polls can be so skewed.”
Even if you believe the polls that have found the Republican brand in deep trouble, it doesn’t matter for the moment. People like Walker are controlling the debate in Texas, and it’s her opinion that matters.
It was on Walker’s radio show that Dewhurst first claimed to have seen DPS troopers smelling bottles filled with urine and “bags” of feces at Capitol security checkpoints in July. It is on Walker’s radio show that he rehearses (and often butchers) his new tea party-approved lines. Texas, he said in October, would turn blue “over my dead, cold blood—cold body.”
When Dewhurst—poor Dewhurst—starts babbling about Benghazi and impeaching Obama, as he did in October to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, you can be assured that he’s hoping to get in the good graces of Toby Marie Walker, or Dallas-Fort Worth’s Alice Linahan, one of the prime movers behind the bizarre CSCOPE non-troversy. (Linahan, by the way, recently encouraged her Facebook and Twitter fans to “re-educate” me. One of my apparent crimes: writing about an email that Texas Attorney General candidate Barry Smitherman sent to his daughter’s school teacher in which he complained about a tolerance lesson put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Smitherman’s wife, Marijane, mentioned the email during a radio program hosted by Linahan. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Smitherman wrote, was unfairly labeling groups like Crusaders For Yahweh, a neo-Nazi organization, as a “hate” group.)
The troubling thing is that the pandering pays off. After his impeachment proclamation in Tarrant County, Dewhurst was roundly ridiculed and practically ran away from a TV camera crew the next day. But he notably picked up an endorsement from the Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams, who, at the same event in which Dewhurst endorsed impeachment, gave a rambling, paranoid lecture on the Muslim Brotherhood in which she accused both CIA Director John Brennan and hardcore anti-tax veteran Grover Norquist of being crypto-Muslims.
Dewhurst is in the tragicomic phase of his bumbling lurch to the far right (the Houston Chronicle called it “painful to watch”). Ever since his humiliating defeat by Cruz in last year’s U.S. Senate primary, the lite guv has been appearing in front of more small groups of cranky white-haired folks than the bingo caller down at the local nursing home.
“You’re listening,” Walker told him on her show in October. Dewhurst replied that he’d been talking to small conservative clubs for years, but now, he said, “Maybe I’m listening harder.”
To the voices in his head? No, worse: to the voices in other people’s heads.
Dewhurst is easy to pick on because he’s so obviously faking it. But if Texas Republicans seem to have descended into madness, it’s only because they’ve succumbed to an extreme fringe that now owns the party and is driving public policy in this state. There are 26 million Texans who, in theory, are Dewhurst’s and Cruz’s constituents. But in reality, the only ones who matter belong to the tea party.