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What You Missed: First 2 Days of the 2018 Texas Republican Convention


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5:30 p.m., Friday — Day 2 Closes with Fireworks

The second day of the Texas GOP convention is wrapping up on a long and drawn out note — though not an uncontentious one. The race for party chair between current chair James Dickey and challenger Cindy Asche, who pushed for a floor fight. She succeeded, leading to a protracted battle on the convention floor that lasted for hours. Both candidates gave final speeches.

Dickey came out to big applause and spoke about the “amazing unity” delegates had shown when overwhelmingly voting for him in the Senate district precinct caucuses this morning. Asche used her speech to throw several firebombs, including accusations that Dickey has been cooking the party’s books, which prompted the party treasurer to quit in protest during the floor fight.

“He is not trustworthy,” Asche said.

Ultimately, Dickey beat Asche on the floor 65-35 percent.

The chair election came after a day full of speeches from Texas Republicans’ statewide leaders, including Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Senator John Cornyn and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Some highlights:

In Abbott’s speech, unveiled a impossibly catchy new campaign slogan: “Anything is Possible in Texas.” He bragged his booming economy — the one that’s bigger than Russia, making him “more powerful than Putin” — promised to protect gun rights after the Santa Fe shooting, secure the border, and crack down on MS-13 members.

Patrick came out to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” — something I’m sure the late rocker would’ve just loved — and made sure everyone knew that he was in charge of the most conservative Texas senate in the history of the state, the nation, the world. He lamented the liberal media’s attack on the Second Amendment, saying, “A gun is not the problem anymore than a car is the problem when a drunk driver who kills someone.”

He spent most of the time trashing Democrats. “There are those in this state that would kill our prosperity, kill innocent babies in the womb, and those on the left who even mock our faith. We call those people Democrats,” he said. “They would force your boys and girls to take showers together and let men into the ladies room.”

Patrick claimed that it was “the left” who started the bathroom battles, and that Texas was merely fighting back against federal government tyranny. “We are right, we are not radical. Those who want those policies [that protect transgender people], those are the radicals.”

Last, Texas’s senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn spoke. Before he took the stage, a video riffing off his famous 2008 “Big John” campaign ad, adding in “Big Don and Big John” to play up his alliance with President Trump.

During the speech, he came to the defense of his Senate colleague Ted Cruz. Testing out a new attack line, Cornyn said of Cruz’s challenger Beto O’Rourke, who went to boarding school: “Beto and the boarding school liberals think they smell blood, but….we’ll send them deeper into the minority.” (He forgot to mention that Cruz went to a private high school in Houston and two Ivy League universities).

On Saturday, Cruz will speak — along with the esteemed Texas House Freedom Caucus member Jonathan Stickland — and delegates have a final vote on the party’s platform and legislative priorities.

With that, the Observer is signing off for the day. Check back tomorrow for more coverage.

4 p.m. Friday — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: ‘The More We Talk About Gun Regulation, the More People Are Gonna Die’

Conservative thought leader Ken Paxton delivered the “constitutional response to mass shootings” Friday at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention, which included barricading doors, arming parishioners and taking cues from Israeli policies that don’t actually exist. Read more here.

1 p.m., Friday — Abbott on Russia, Lupe Valdez and God

From the first line of his speech, you could tell where Governor Greg Abbott was going with this. “It’s great to be at a convention that believes in God almighty and people who would never take a knee for our national anthem,” he said.

From there, he didn’t disappoint. I’m running around to other convention events so here are the highlights.

Naturally, there was a dig at Russia and its venerable leader/friend of Trump.

He also took a dig at his Democratic opponent, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

Abbott also unveiled what appears to be his new campaign slogan: “Anything is possible in Texas.” Much like Ted Cruz’s “Tough as Texas” messaging, it relies on tropes about Texas exceptionalism, culture war issues, and, naturally, plenty of Democrat-bashing.

Here’s how he ended things:

The latest tweets:

9 a.m., Friday — First, a Battle for the Texas GOP Party Chair

Texas Republicans have already started the business of crafting a platform at the convention. But delegates also have a big decision to make Friday: Who will run their party?

Texas Republican Party Chair James Dickey.  Jen Reel

For the past year, that job has belonged to James Dickey, who narrowly won the party chair election last year after the previous chair Tom Mechler stepped down. Here’s an interview the Observer did with Dickey, who previously served as chair of the Travis County GOP, last September.

Just a few months after his election, he was the deciding vote on State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) censure of House Speaker Joe Straus and he’s cozied up to Empower Texans and the far-right wing of the party.

Dickey is running for re-election but faces a challenge from Cindy Crocker Asche, a nurse and party activist from Frisco who is positioning herself as more of a party uniter and has spoken against the ideological purity crusades displayed by the Straus censure. “Are we telling Republicans across the state that you’re not a good enough Republican?” Asche asked at a recent candidate forum, according to Quorum Report. “Do we want them to vote for the Democrats?”

Asche has also gone after Dickey for a 2004 securities fraud case he was involved in, casting him as an untrustworthy steward of the state party. Though she’s earned endorsements from former chair Mechler, her bid faces long odds. In a speech on the convention floor Thursday, Asche tied herself to President Trump’s coattails, saying she was on board with him since he was the presumptive nominee, through the convention, and every step on. That’s a not-so-subtle dig at Dickey, who she’s criticized for his association with #NeverTrumpism.

You could be forgiven for being confused about her position as something as a unifier listening to her speech Thursday, during which she boasted about her anti-abortion, pro-gun rights, border security bona fides. “Anyone who infringes on those [Second Amendment] rights, well they can pry our guns from our cold, dead hands,” she said.

But she also talked about the need to reach out to people of color. “If we don’t reach out to those communities, we will lose Texas.”

Dickey has the endorsement of more than half of the members of the SREC and the influential conservative groups like Texas House Freedom Caucus and Texas Right to Life. His Thursday speech was somewhat more measured, focusing more on how he has brought transparency and strong financial footing to the party during his tenure. He, too, leaned into Trumpism. “The bottom line: as President Trump says, I’m not tired of winning yet. I know you’re not tired of winning yet,” he said.

Delegates will likely decide the outcome of the chair race sometime this afternoon. The result of the party chair race will in some ways set the tone for the rest of the convention, perhaps giving some indication as to whether there is any willingness among the grassroots to temper the ideological purities being pushed by the right. —Justin Miller

3:30 p.m., Thursday — Gun-Toting Delegates Mad over Hotel Firearms Ban

The Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Antonio is not allowing guests to tote pistols around the lobby, and some Second Amendment activists are pissed. The policy is enough for some Texas Republican Party Convention delegates to stay 20 minutes away from the headquarters hotel and adjacent convention center, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s their right, and it’s our right to take our business elsewhere,” Kenneth Grant told reporter Todd Gillman at the Open Carry Texas booth Thursday, adding that he’s staying at a Candlewood Suites nearly 10 miles away with no gun ban.

The annual gathering is being held near the Hyatt at the Henry B. González Convention Center, which is allowing delegates to carry guns inside. Last month, a similar issue cropped up at the NRA convention in Dallas. Ahead of President Trump’s speech to thousands of NRA members, the U.S. Secret Service declared the arena a gun-free zone as a safety precaution.

“If [the Grand Hyatt] want[s] a crime spree, that’s their choice,” said Cody Whitaker, an Army veteran volunteering at the Open Carry Texas booth.

The group’s founder, C.J. Grisham, was arrested in a San Antonio suburb in March at a protest of an Olmos Park ordinance banning loaded rifles on public streets. The charges against Grisham, who ran unsuccessfully for state House district 55 last month, were ultimately dropped.

Guns have been front and center in Republican politics in Texas for the last several years, as the Legislature has increased access to firearms. But a massacre at a Santa Fe, Texas, school last month has changed the debate, prompting legislative hearings about whether more guns or tighter regulations could curb the violence.

Some of the most outspoken gun rights legislators, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Attorney General Ken Paxton and state Representative Jonathan Stickland, will take part in a panel on Friday at 1 p.m. titled “The Constitutional Response to Mass Shootings.” We’ll be there. Check back here for updates. Kolten Parker

2 p.m. — Keep up to date with our photo gallery.

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11:30 a.m — Dan Patrick Doesn’t Want to Talk About Bathrooms

As party leaders were conducting some mundane business on the convention floor here in San Antonio, I spot Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick grinning and gripping supporters nearby.

Curious to hear what pressing political issue he plans to emphasize at this year’s GOP convention, I ask him whether he hopes that his infamous “bathroom bill” will remain an official legislative priority for the party.

Unfortunately, Patrick, fearless defender of the integrity of Texas lavoraties, didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m not doing interviews right now,” he said. “We can talk about it later.”

I’ll hold you to that, Mr. Patrick.

Regardless, the Texas GOP’s activists appear intent on maintaining Patrick’s legislative obsession as a top priority. Fittingly, Patrick has compared this political fight to the “Battle of the Alamo.” Per Austin American-Statesman reporter Jonathan Tilove, it looks like it has a good chance of remaining one of the party’s top legislative priorities, which delegates will debate, vote on, and finalize by Saturday.

Forget that tired old GOP principle about limited government spending… it’s all about bathrooms now.—Justin Miller

9 a.m. — Good morning. 

Welcome to the 2018 Texas Republican Party Convention, a spectacle that party officials claim to be “the largest political gathering in the free world” (and, trivia alert, second only to the Chinese Communist Party convention). As many as 10,000 GOP activists are expected to descend on the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio Thursday to hash out the business of the most influential Republican state party in the country.

The Observer is here at the convention for the next few days, following along as party delegates determine the Texas GOP’s platform and stake out the party’s legislative priorities, all setting the tone for the November midterm elections and the 2019 legislative session.

Michelle Raji

Apart from the matters of firming up the GOP’s scripture, electing party leadership and conducting other formal business, many of the party’s esteemed elected officials — from Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and state Representative Jonathan Stickland — will speak on Friday and Saturday and are sure to fire up the audience with some responsible and sober political dialogue.

The convention is like summer camp for the GOP’s most diehard conservative activists, many of whom are eager to double down on the most reactionary impulses of the Texas Republican Party, like the decision to censure House Speaker Joe Straus in January. With that, conservatives got a taste of blood and pushed to censure other Republican electeds deemed in anyway out of step with party orthodoxy, including Straus lieutenant Byron Cook, U.S. Senator John Cornyn and a trio of GOP congressmen. Those efforts were swatted down by the platform committee Wednesday but could come up again on the convention floor.

We’ll also find out whether there’s the will (and a way) for the platform and legislative priorities to become even more radical than what was set out at the last convention in 2016, which included calls for the outright abolition of abortion, constitutional carry and the prioritization of border security funding “through whatever means necessary.”

We’ll also be keeping our eyes open for whether some unforeseen issue will emerge out of the party’s id and become the dominant political touchstone of the moment, much like Patrick’s anti-trans bathroom fearmongering in 2016. Will it center on the means and methods of opposing abortion? Immigration? A backlash to Governor Greg Abbott’s gun safety proposal?

Buckle in and join us as we follow along. Follow @by_jmiller and @michelleraji for tweets. —Justin Miller