The presidential race is the marquee contest at the Republican Party of Texas convention this year, but another race really says more about where Texas Republicans are: the battle for party leadership.
Friday, delegates will vote on whether to retain the steady but unremarkable Chairman Tom Mechler and Vice Chair Amy Clark, or dump them for the decidedly fringier duo: Jared Woodfill and Cathie Adams. They seem unlikely to win, but in the year of Trump, who knows?
On Thursday, the four candidates spoke briefly to a mostly empty convention floor.
Woodfill is a fire-breathing former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party and current squire of GOP donor Steve Hotze, the sword-wielding alternative-medicine-hawking whackadoo who’s been angry at the gays for decades. Woodfill’s backers recently circulated rainbow-colored mailers arguing that Mechler, a very average-seeming mustachioed oil and gas consultant from Amarillo, meant to advance a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”
On Thursday, Woodfill paced frenetically around the stage, slicked-back hair and paisley tie neatly complimenting his naturally oleaginous personality. If he were elected party chair, he said, he’d rain hell on the spineless wimps of the Texas House, who killed bills championed by real conservatives. He’d mobilize the party in support of legislation targeting Sharia law, immigrants and “transgendereds,” the triumvirate of progressive power in Texas.
Unlike, he said, the cowed mainstream GOP. When an anti-Sharia bill came up in the House last year, Mechler and the party stayed out of it. “I didn’t receive one call, one tweet, one text message,” Woodfill said.
You know what they say about silence in the face of evil: If Woodfill were chair, he’d tweet everybody, all the time. Mechler spoke for a little more than a minute, never directly acknowledging Woodfill’s rainbow mailers. “I’ve walked with Christ for 40 years,” he said, his wife behind him.
Instead, Mechler’s predecessor, former Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri, spoke for him, signaling strong support from the “normal” wing of the party. Munisteri spoke at length about the Texas GOP’s disastrous state when he assumed leadership in 2010, and the work Mechler did to help him pull the GOP out of it. (That was also a ding on Cathie Adams, Munisteri’s predecessor, who he says left the broken party to him for repair.)
“There are some who want to take our party back,” he said. “Are you kidding? Why would we want to go back to six years ago?” His tenure and Mechler’s had been the Texas GOP’s most successful in history, and it needed good managers, not ideologues, to keep the machine that “annihilated and humiliated Wendy Davis” to keep running smoothly.
Then it was Adams’ turn. Adams has spent the years since she was given the boot from party leadership roaming the state, telling conservatives that Grover Norquist and the director of the CIA are secret Muslims. She also served as the head of the Texas Chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, where she helped lead an abortive putsch against Schlafly a few weeks back. Schlafly supported Trump: Adams supported Cruz. Adams essentially called Schlafly, a hero of the conservative women’s movement, senile, and then failed to dislodge her.
On stage, Adams talked about everything except the party and how she would lead it. She slammed the House and emphasized her support of Beth Van Duyne, the Irving mayor who went to war over the presence of a local Islamic mediation service.
Adams has been attending United Nations meetings “every year since 1997,” she told the slowly emptying crowd. There, she learned the causes of climate change: the wind, sun and ocean currents. (“Anyone think that they’re going to change an ocean current?”)
And another thing: Israel. “God makes it very clear, I will bless those who bless Israel and I will curse those that curse Israel,” she told the crowd, hungry for lunch. “That is a hill I am willing to die on.” Though come to think of it, she would also fight to “protect our electrical grid from attack” by electromagnetic pulses.
Her opponent, Amy Clark, was less energetic. The vice chair, she suggested gently, had to represent Republican values, but in a way that seemed, well, sane. She spoke about meeting some nice Danish journalists, and patiently explaining to them the primacy of the gun to Texans.
Adams, it was left unsaid, produced headlines of the wrong kind.
Woodfill and Adams may be fringe, but it’s important to note that they are in many ways closer to the state’s most influential elected officials than Mechler and Clark. Hotze was an important figure in the election of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who started his speech today with an even stronger version of Woodfill’s trans-bashing rhetoric. Electromagnetic pulses, Sharia law and such are perennial topics in the Capitol. And both Woodfill and Adams praised Governor Greg Abbott’s pledge, earlier today, to crush “sanctuary cities” next session, something neither Munisteri, Mechler or Clark saw fit to mention.
Afterward, I talked with Woodfill, who said his main problem with Mechler was that he shirked from the party’s “official” principles. “He is not willing to stand behind our platform,” he said. “It is a cultural war that we are involved in and our party platform is very clear on that.”
He’s right: senior Republicans think — correctly — that the platform is an embarrassment to the party and do their best to pretend it doesn’t exist. The adoption of the 2014 platform, which embraced reparative therapy for gays and swung the party even further against expanding legal immigration, was a circus.
This year, the GOP has made attempts to streamline debate on the platform’s planks. But even if Mechler and Clark win Friday and quietly lock the platform away in their filing cabinets, the party’s elected representatives will keep advocating for the cranks.
[Featured image from the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention by Patrick Michels.]