For the first time in four years, Texas Republicans met in person at their state party convention over the weekend. And boy, did they make up for lost time.
* They approved a measure that stated that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected.”
* They rebuked the 10 Senate Republicans involved in the bipartisan talks on gun legislation — including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who was booed during his speech Friday at the convention.
* They approved language in the party platform that describes homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls on students “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”
* They harassed Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw, calling him “eye patch McCain.” (Crenshaw lost an eye during military service in Afghanistan.)
Taken together, the message was simple: This is Donald Trump’s party. Period. End of sentence.
“Donald Trump radicalized the party and accelerated the demands from the base,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus told the Texas Tribune. “There simply aren’t limits now on what the base might ask for.”
Take the treatment of Cornyn and Crenshaw.
Both Republicans are solidly conservative. Cornyn has a 78% rating from Heritage Action, a conservative think tank. Crenshaw’s rating from that same group is 92%.
So, what did they do wrong?
In Cornyn’s case, he decided to take a leadership role — in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas — in talks to bring a decidedly narrow framework on guns that would provide more funding for mental health programs and strengthen the review process for those under 21 trying to buy a gun.
As notable as what’s in the bill is what’s not: no assault weapons ban, no universal background checks and no raising the age limit to buy a gun.
Despite the relatively meager changes the framework proposes, its fate remains very much up in the air — with an ongoing debate about red flag laws and the so-called “boyfriend” loophole.
The crowd’s reaction to all of that? “No gun control!,” they chanted over and over again at Cornyn.
As for Crenshaw, he has refused to go along with unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and has been a staunch supporter of providing aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia (which first spurred Fox’s Tucker Carlson to call Crenshaw “eye patch McCain”). The GOP base is also upset with his willingness to criticize some of the stars of the Trumpified Republican Party.
At an event late last year in Texas, Crenshaw drew headlines when he said this:
“There’s two types of members of Congress: There’s performance artists and legislators. The performance artists are the ones that get all the attention, the ones you think are more conservative because they know how to say slogans real well, they know how to recite the lines that they know our voters want to hear.”
Later, he added this: “We have grifters in our midst … in the conservative movement. Lie after lie after lie.”
While Crenshaw didn’t name names that day, he has repeatedly jousted with Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green on Twitter. “Still going after that slot on Russia Today huh?” Crenshaw tweeted at Greene following a disagreement over the war in Ukraine last month. Earlier in the year, Crenshaw called Greene an “idiot” after the two clashed over Covid-19 policies.
What this weekend’s festivities in Texas make clear is that there is an active and ongoing effort to purge the Republican Party of anyone and everyone who a) criticizes Donald Trump or his congressional allies in any way or b) seeks to break from rigid party orthodoxy on issues like guns.
These criticisms are calling cards of Trump’s years leading the Republican Party: there’s no room for compromise or even conversation. It’s either his way or no way.