2016 Texas GOP convention in Dallas

Dan Patrick Karaoke, Cruz’s Return and Everything Else You Missed at #RPT16

Three days of mourning Ted Cruz's presidential bid and hollering about bathrooms.

If you’d rather listen to the sounds of secession than read about them, the latest Texas Miracle podcast is an all-GOP convention special edition this week, featuring the debate over Texas independence, chats with Trump supporters and more. Listen here.

5:05 p.m.

David Brockman, who’s been offering a theological perspective on the convention for us for the last three days, has some reflections on Sid Miller’s Bible-beating convention speech:

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has become as well known for the fundamentalist Christianity he wears on his sleeve as for the cowboy hat he wears on his head. And he didn’t break character in his speech today at the closing session of the Texas GOP Convention.

Wearing his trademark white Stetson, he accused the media and the “liberal left” of putting him down for his very public Christian belief in “faith, freedom, and family,” and he advocated electing “good, God-fearing conservatives to all offices from the statehouse to the White House.” In closing, he thanked Jesus Christ, took off his cowboy hat, and (as Andrea noted earlier) read from 2 Chronicles 7:14. In this passage, God tells Israel, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Judging from the applause, that biblical passage went over well. Miller and the assembled delegates seem to have absolutely no doubt to whom “their wicked ways” refers: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, the “Democrat” party, the media, and the “liberal left.” That absolute certainty about the wickedness of the GOP’s opponents has been prominently displayed throughout this convention.

But in their rush to judgment, might Miller and his fellow travelers be forgetting about the first part of the passage —  the part where God makes humility a precondition for divine favor? How can they be sure that the wickedness is not coming from their own policies, such as not allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in Texas, or denying millions of Texas women access to affordable reproductive services, or standing in the way of compassionate treatment for transgender Texans? These questions had little chance of being heard in the echo chamber that is the 2016 convention.

4:30 p.m.

They’re stacking the chairs and delegates are trickling away to their cars and hotel rooms. All the planks of the 2016 GOP platform, which this year were approved one-by-one by delegates, passed.

Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Donald Trump, appeared in the final hour of the last day of the convention to pull some more teeth in favor of his guy:

It’s been … real. Yep, that was a real thing that happened. That whoooooole thing. Take us away, Ted!

Ted Cruz and family
Patrick Michels
Ted Cruz with his family.

2:51 p.m.

Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, who entered the stage to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and made multiple references to his exercise routine and overall fitness, was given the task of stumping for “the nominee.”

Oof.

2:38 p.m.

Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, whose list of scandals and blunders may be longer than that of any currently sitting Republican official, appeared wearing his signature cowboy hat. He twanged his way through a vaguely-riling, nonspecific speech about the federal government (bad) and Texas (good) and agriculture (important) and federal bureaucracy (“make me wanna scream four-letter words”) and Hillary Clinton (very bad) and Barack Obama (real bad) and Michelle Obama (bad) and Greg Abbott (awesome) and freedom (good) and Dan Patrick (cool) and Ken Paxton (thumbs up) and a long list of other elected Republicans, who are also agreeable to Sid Miller, plus his family, who he also likes.

Sid Miller
Patrick Michels
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Miller closed with a Bible verse from 2 Chronicles: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

2:24 p.m.

Ken Paxton
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Attorney General Ken Paxton had a tough act to follow, taking the stage after Ted Cruz to an emptying room and a lot of chatter. Paxton’s flat tone didn’t help. Oh, he had jokes — he just delivered them with all the verve of someone who hasn’t slept in, say, ten or twelve days.

2:10 p.m.

Heidi Cruz introduced a triumphant-ish Ted to thunderous applause this afternoon. Both Cruzes emphasized how glad they were to be back in Texas, and made several references to beds and sleeping. “Ted has never woken up a morning in his life, in our marriage, that he wasn’t happy,” said Heidi, who, along with Ted, thanked the crowd profusely for their unwavering support.

Heeeeeere's Ted. #rpt16

A video posted by Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) on

It was weird, really — the thanking people repeatedly for helping the Cruzes … lose the presidential nomination to a guy who, mere months ago, people were sure was conducting an elaborate troll job on the American people.

Cruz’s speech touched on all the usual issues:

  • The federal government, of which Ted Cruz recently and very desperately wanted to be the head, is the worst and terrible and pointless. “Secure the borders, deliver the mail and keep us safe, that’s it!” he crowed, to wild cheers.
  • Obama: the worst.
  • Obama: awful.
  • Obama: bad.
  • Obama: just unthinkably terrible.
  • Obama: not a great dude.
  • Obama: horrible.
  • Obama: would rather he were not president.
  • Obama: thumbs down.
  • Obama: nope.

Cruz, whose party is currently seeking to enact legislation that would require people to present gender-identifying papers to prove they’re in the right public restroom, railed against Obama’s “decrees,” claiming that the president was attempting to become the “bathroom police” of the nation.

Cruz made no mention of Trump, and didn’t really even touch on party unity or its future, except to say: “God is not done,” said Cruz, “with America yet.”

11:30 a.m.

Abraham Lincoln
Patrick Michels
Ole’ Abe must have been a little surprised to see secession on the table in the year 2016.

David weathered last night’s debate over secession on the general session floor. He writes:

Abortion came up repeatedly on the pro-secession side. One speaker claimed that the federal government has buried “states’ rights at the bottom of a landfill” under “the bodies of murdered babies,” to vigorous applause. Another proponent cited the current anti-transgender bathroom battle: Washington, she said, will “allow pervert men into women’s bathrooms.”

Read the rest of his report here.

9:50 a.m.

Things don’t get started in the general session until around 12:30. Ted Cruz is scheduled to talk around 1:45 p.m., and he’s got plenty of fans awaiting:

Also on the schedule: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who’s been having a not-great time lately, and ag commish Sid Miller, who is rather fond of charging taxpayers for out-of-state trips to get crank medical treatments and do a little rodeoin‘.

^^^^^ Saturday, May, 14 2016 ^^^^^

8:40 p.m.

I guess it’s probably time to tell y’all we’ve decamped to the patio bar to debrief about the day’s doings. We’ll be back tomorrow morning with more dispatches from the convention. In the meantime, subscribe to the Texas Miracle, our weekly news and views podcast, on iTunes, to make sure you don’t miss this week’s GOP convention special.

5:36 p.m.

And after all that rigmarole with barring me from the “Abbott University” social media class, they still wanted me at graduation.

5:30 p.m.

After a vociferous debate over voting to vote to vote to vote to vote if Texas should vote to secede from these here United States, secession is off the table.

2:00 p.m.

Delegates are gathering on the general session hall floor now, prepping to vote (via little Scantron-like ballots, I believe) on individual planks of the proposed 2016 platform, which doesn’t include secession but does include:

  • Repealing the 17th Amendment
  • Banning red-light cameras
  • Overturning nationwide same-sex marriage
  • Opposing homosexuality
  • Promoting “sexual orientation change efforts”
  • Anti-trans bathroom legislation
  • Outlawing abortion
  • Drug testing for low-income people who receive welfare
  • No legalized gambling
  • Computer programming
  • Medical billing specialist
  • Accounting
  • Veterinary assistant

I may have gotten off track there at the end.

1:33 p.m.

Here’s some fun (“fun”) from the exhibition hall floor:

12:01 p.m.

Chris Hooks, from the general session floor:

After an impressively long delay, during which Republican delegates watched videos, sat silently through a sing-a-long and walked around aimlessly, the re-election of party Chair Tom Mechler and Vice Chair Amy Clark was announced after brief concession speeches by their fringy rivals.

Woodfill came out first: In keeping with the theme of the convention, he urged party unity. Until days before the convention, Woodfill’s backers were smearing Mechler with bizarre rainbow-colored mailers. Now, they were bosom buddies. “It is now time for us to get behind the next chairman of the Republican Party of Texas,” he said. Mechler briefly emerged on stage in acknowledgement, then returned silently to the wings.

Woodfill apparently won the support of enough delegations to have his nomination considered by the full body, though elected not to. Adams got trounced. For the second time, she came on stage to “Eye of the Tiger,” and for the second time, she told the convention that her grandson had picked the music.

“It has been a real privilege for me to campaign and get to know better Amy Clark, Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas,” said Adams. She quickly got offstage, and the convention broke for lunch.

11:20 a.m.

Here’s a dispatch from David Brockman, who pressed Dan Patrick on his “local control” claims about being “blackmailed” by Obama over trans kids using school bathrooms:

In today’s presser, Dan Patrick complained that the Obama administration’s guidance to superintendents on transgender students is overreach by the federal government. Since the Obama guidance threatens noncompliant schools with lawsuits and loss of federal funds, Patrick called it federal “blackmail” and declared that Texas will not take Obama’s “thirty pieces of silver.”

In response, Patrick issued his own guidance to Texas superintendents, urging them not to comply with the federal guidance. His own guidance to superintendents, he said, “has everything to do with keeping the federal government out of local issues.”

But how is the lieutenant governor’s guidance not itself interference in local issues — this time by the state? I asked Patrick to clarify. Here’s his answer in full:

“I’m trying to give the superintendents some guidance because they’re asking their associations, they’re asking their legal teams, and they’ll be asking the governor, the lieutenant governor, their senators, their representatives. But most superintendents aren’t going to want to follow this policy. So I’m giving them guidance. This is my recommendation to them. You’ve got three weeks to go in the school year, listen to your parents, listen to your school board, and work through this. But don’t panic, and don’t be blackmailed, and understand that as the state — we’re just not going to accept thirty pieces of silver.”

Maybe you find that answer more satisfying than I do.

11:08 a.m.

As Republican leadership takes every opportunity to harp on transgender people using bathrooms, it’s worth noting that 2016 is the first year that an LGBT Republican group has ever been allowed to table at the convention. John Wright has more.

10:51 a.m.

Chris Hooks is stationed in the loud, flashy main general session room, where John Cornyn’s just given his address.

10:47 a.m.

Read John Wright’s latest on where the 2016 Texas Republican platform (secession! anti-trans bills! more gay stuff! like, a lot of gay stuff!) stands.

10: 30 a.m.

David Brockman, our theologian-in-residence (or, perhaps after this convention, reluctance) shares his take on the heavy religious overtones of this year’s Texas GOP convention:

For newbies like me, the 2016 Texas GOP Convention is a raucous cacophony of sights and sounds. Gaudy banners, inspirational videos, blustering country songs, speeches, slogans, claims, counterclaims and trash-talking. And quotations. Lots of quotations: from Jesus to Washington, Reagan to Trump and a host of competing candidates.

But here’s a quote you won’t find here: religion and government “will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Who wrote that? Scoot on over to David’s full report to find out.

9:51 a.m.

More from the Dan Patrick anti-trans presser, called by Dan Patrick to talk about trans bathroom issues, which he has no choice but to talk about, as he is now “in the middle of” the issue, even though he would really rather not be here at his press conference about trans people using the bathrooms.

John Wright asked Patrick if he’d be going against the 900-strong Texas businesses who are part of the Texas Competes pledge in favor of LGBT rights. Patrick said he absolutely would.

9:30 a.m.

“This has nothing to do with anyone being against a transgender child,” said Dan Patrick, at the press conference he called to promote his policy of preventing transgender children from using the bathrooms where they are safest.

“It’s not a fight of my choosing,” said Patrick, of the time he drove to Fort Worth and called a press conference to talk about which bathrooms transgender kids could use. “I was thrust into it,” he said, describing the local Fort Worth school district policy over which he has no authority whatsoever.

Patrick spent most of the conference railing against Obama, who he says is inappropriately, and in the manner of a dictator, pushing flawed Title IX protections for gender identity on the states. Patrick said feds (Obama!) could pull school lunch funding over the trans issue if states refuse to allow trans kids to use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. He promised Texas would not let that happen (by funding food, not by just allowing kids to go to the bathroom).

While Patrick uses this opportunity to puff up his hyper-conservative politics, trans Texans are the ones in real danger: of being harassed and assaulted in public facilities by bathroom-policing conservatives.

9:20 a.m.

Texas Senator John Cornyn wandered into the media room to hold his nose for a tepid Trump endorsement and to blame the anti-trans bathroom business on the media. At the Dan Patrick press conference called specifically by Dan Patrick to help Dan Patrick air his anti-trans bathroom plans.

9:05 a.m.

The media are getting set up here on the third floor of the convention center for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s 9:30 presser “on Obama’s upcoming transgender policy for all public schools.”

It’s early and I haven’t had nearly enough coffee, so I’m going to bullet points this:

  • This anti-transgender bathroom stuff is the wholesale make of the right-wing. Transgender people didn’t ask to be treated differently in bathrooms.
  • Transgender people have, for years, actively lobbied to stop and stymie bills that call attention to bathroom use.
  • Nosing around at people’s pants parts in the bathroom is not a thing anybody but the GOP wants. In fact, the only people fantasizing about using bathrooms to do creepy things to women and children are people like Republican Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, a cisgender man, who has said he would have abused nondiscrimination policies to creep on girls at his school as a teen. And then there’s the American Family Association, which is positively afroth over the prospect of sending some grown men into the ladies’ room.
  • Nondiscrimination ordinances don’t create a defense to prosecution for committing sex crimes anywhere, including public bathrooms.
  • It is particularly rich for lawmakers like Dan Patrick to crow about local control and then openly insert themselves in the municipal dealings of who pees where.

7:35 a.m.

Good morning, y’all. The Observer team is back on the ground this morning at the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention.

I was just checking to see what I might have missed overnight when I ran across this tweet from the Texas Federation of Republican Women.

Maybe “missed” is the wrong word?

^^^^^ Friday, May 13, 2016 ^^^^^

10:00 p.m.

That’s all for tonight, folks. Tune back in tomorrow for live updates of the party platform debate, the party leadership battle and more news from the LGBTQ front.

Overnight, how about a caption contest? Tweet us your cutline for this photo of Ken Paxton standing with his mouth agape in the middle of the convention hall:

Ken Paxton
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Ken Paxton enjoys the exhibitors’ hall at the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention.

9:34 p.m.

John Wright is sweating it out as the GOP platform committee sorts which planks delegates will vote on tomorrow. The big news: the committee gave the secession plank the boot, but word is that some secessionists may try to reintroduce the idea on the floor tomorrow.

A Donald Trump supporter with a photo of the man
Patrick Michels
These life-size standups were the closest Donald Trump came to the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention … on day one, at least.

9:15 p.m.

Where is the Texas GOP leadership headed? Further to the right, or even further to the right?

Chris Hooks studiously analyzed the rhetoric of the four candidates vying for the Texas GOP chair and vice-chair spots, by which I mean: he watched them talk. Now, he has written some salient observations and also a few jokes about the occasionally terrifying things they had to say to the few hungry delegates who stuck around the hall for their speeches at mid-day.

8:30 p.m.

David’s settled in at the Faith, Family and Freedom event tonight, featuring Rafael Cruz, a toned-down Dan Patrick and a Christian comic:

5:20 p.m.

David’s found some religu-diculous merch and … literature?

Islamophobia on full display at the Act for America booth here at #RPT16. One brochure claims that the foundations of Islamic doctrine include: lying to advance Islam; killing & conquering for Allah; and that non-Muslims must “convert, pay, or die.” Despite the copious quotes from the Qur’an, these “doctrines” have little relation to Islam as it is lived out by most Muslims today.

Islamophobic brochures at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.
David Brockman
Islamophobic brochures at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.

5:00 p.m.

Dan Patrick weighed in on the subject of Texas secession (an evergreen joke to blue-staters, one that makes my blood boil) earlier, telling reporters that he is “not in favor” of the idea.

Meantime, Patrick is out meeting the grassroots on the convention floor; here’s his live Periscope interview with a Trump supporter and merch vendor.

And Ted Cruz? Well, he is much missed:

4:37 p.m.

While the #RPT16 hashtag fills up with bizarre porno-bots, I find myself not, as I had expected, tweeting from the “Abbott University” social media session led by former Breitbart writer Sarah Rumpf.

A young guy in a suit intercepted me at the sign-in table, made a Very Important Phone Call, and informed me that the session was closed to press. I made a call to Abbott’s campaign director, who also told me I wouldn’t be allowed in. He didn’t seem keen to answer my questions about why press wasn’t allowed into a session led by, well, someone who considers herself to be a journalist.

Then again, Breitbart does seem to have a special relationship with GOP leadership these days.

3:08 p.m.

From David, following up on Greg Abbott’s book plugs in his #RPT16 speech: If convention-goers somehow missed the news about Abbott’s book, this bus in the exhibit hall will remind them.

Greg Abbott's promotional bus for his Broken But Unbowed book at the 2016 Texas Republican convention.
David Brockman
Greg Abbott’s promotional bus for his Broken But Unbowed book at the 2016 Texas Republican convention.

2:30 p.m.

We’re breaking for lunch and a re-charge (there’s a biergarten across the street playing a lot of Madonna that looks kind of interesting). I’ll be back later to post updates from an “Abbott University” social media class, and Patrick will be checking out the Abbott U voter registration course. Plus we’ll have more from platform debates and tonight’s “Freedom, Faith and Family Rally” with Carly Fiorina and Rafael Cruz.

1:28 p.m.

And if you feel as if some of this stuff sounds a little out-of-this-world, well …

1:25 p.m.

As John Wright reported this morning, the Texas GOP is considering changing the language in its platform plank that supports therapy that claims to help people change their sexual orientation. The anti-LGBTQ crowd is not pleased:

1:18 p.m.

As candidates for Texas GOP party leadership currently take the stage to argue for righter-right policies (that’s the Woodfill/Adams ticket) or the less-right-right policies (current chair, Tom Mechler), David Brockman has some thoughts on their religious claims:

Dueling Christians: Jared Woodfill, challenging Tom Mechler for Texas GOP chair, has made much of his conservative Christian credentials. His webpage prominently displays 1 Timothy 6:12 (“Fight the good fight”). His campaign statement (same website) complains that “Religious liberties are being assaulted.” There is a “war being waged by the secular left on the biblical foundations of our culture,” he writes. And he accuses an unnamed “some” of “running from our Judeo Christian heritage.” Pretty strong stuff. Not surprisingly, incumbent Mechler’s handout here at RPT 2016 leads off with conservative Christian red meat. The very first item under “Tom Mechler Believes”: “We are a Judeo-Christian nation created by God to serve as a positive influence in the world.” The second item: “We must defend the Republican platform, the sanctity of life, and traditional marriage.”

12:19 p.m.

This bathroom thing, y’all. I’m saying. Well, John Wright is saying:

12:12: p.m.

A Trump supporter here told Patrick Michels that The Donald’s crew isn’t getting a warm welcome. “Doors were slammed in our faces,” says Andrew Gillette. “There’s a serious, I don’t know, persecution or whatever you want to call it, of the Trump name right now.”

11:45 a.m.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.
Patrick Michels
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.

Dan Patrick enjoyed some relaxed TED Talk-style cosplaying for his part of the big general session launch this morning, kicking off with a couple of transphobic one-liners about men using the women’s bathroom (still, for the eleventy time, not a thing, no matter how hard the GOP tries to make it one). He went on to rally the crowd in favor of a complete shutdown of the border, which made it sort of an awkward pivot to trying to ingratiate himself to Hispanic voters with remarks about abortion and, of course … men in women’s bathrooms.

The big takeaway: Patrick did the Texas GOP dirty work of coming out as the first conventioneer to call not just for a united party, but for outright support of Trump (to relatively tepid reception) because Trump might nominate Ted Cruz to the Supreme Court (which garnered cheers so loud I could barely hear Patrick talking).

11:30 a.m.

David’s highlights from Abbott’s speech:

Not surprisingly, Governor Abbott’s opening speech offered plenty of red meat to conservative Christians. He kicked off speech with “God Bless Texas and God bless the Republican Party of  Texas,” to wild applause. He continued — implying a link — that it’s been 20 years since a Democrat occupied statewide office. He ended with “something you’ll never hear at a Democrat convention — the word of God,” quoting Psalm 22 (“I will never be shaken.”) “As long as we build our fortress on the rock of God,” Abbott concluded. “America will never be shaken.”

11:23 a.m.

John Wright has this update from the chair/vice-chair race, on which noted leader of an SPLC-designated hate group Steve Hotze has some opinions:

11:04 a.m.

Greg Abott speaking at the 2016 Texas Republican Party convention.
Patrick Michels
Greg Abott speaking at the 2016 Texas Republican Party convention.

Governor Greg Abbott has taken the stage to a standing ovation. Biggest applause breaks so far have been for the red meat base-invigorating stuff: guns, babies, ‘bortions, ‘bathrooms, ‘Bamacare.

10:43 a.m.

I’ve already been aggressively offered signs for hyper-right chair/vice-chair candidates Jared Woodfill and Cathie Adams, nada from the more moderate Tom Mechler camp.

David talked to some Woodfill/Adams fans earlier:

I had a nice chat with Woodfill/Adams supporters this morning. They are supporting Woodfill not so much for religious reasons — Woodfill has made much of his conservative Christian values and support from pastors — but because (1) they didn’t like the political tactics of Mechler supporters in their locality, and (2) folks from the Woodfill campaign contacted them personally.

10:31 a.m.

Things kicked off this morning with twangy tunes, prayer (“God bless the Republican Party!”) and pledges in the convention hall.

10:26 a.m.

From David Brockman, our resident theologian, who’s been milling around the convention floor:

Steve Hotze, founder of Conservative Republicans of Texas, was staffing the Woodfill booth this morning. When I introduced myself as with the Texas Observer, he smiled and asked me if I said my prayers this morning. I said I had, and identified myself as an Episcopalian. He then took me aside and told me a joke about Baptists and Episcopalians. This convention is already full of surprises.

9:54 a.m.

The first-ever LGBT Republican group allowed to table at the Texas GOP convention is handing out “Hillary wipes.”

9:40 a.m.

Koozie swag from the 2016 Texas GOP convention media room.
Andrea Grimes
Koozie swag from the 2016 Texas GOP convention media room.

The first general session of the 2016 Texas Republican Convention gets underway in about 20 minutes (Quorum Report has a schedule of speakers). Fort Worth state Senator Konni Burton (who’s been trying to fill filibuster-famous Wendy Davis’ pink sneakers with her own anti-abortion cowboy boots since she took Davis’ seat back in 2014) will kick things off with the U.S. pledge.

Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are also coming up this morning with appearances on the big stage, followed by the candidates for the state party’s hotly (and sort of nastily) contested vice-chair and chair spots.

Y’all can follow the Texas Observer team on the ground for live tweets and photos: I’m at @AndreaGrimes, along with staffer @PatrickMichels and our dogged freelancers John Wright (@JohnIsWright), Chris Hooks (@CD_Hooks) and David Brockman (@DrDrBrockman).

9:15 a.m.

John Wright, who’s on the LGBTQ beat at this year’s convention, filed his first dispatch: a GOP platform panel has rejected the idea of booting anti-gay “reparative therapy” endorsements from the party platform. Instead, the original author of the party platform’s “reparative therapy” language suggested some minor changes that still endorse “sexual orientation change efforts.” Efforts.

^^^^^ Thursday, May 12, 2016 ^^^^^

Andrea Grimes, a native Texan and avid twitterer, is the digital editor at the Observer.

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