By H. Harrison Coleman
On January 28, Republican Representative Kyle Biedermann (TX-73) introduced articles of secession into the Texas legislature in response to President Biden being inaugurated. This is not new—Texas has had a long history of threatening secession (and, in 1861, attempting it along with ten other states). In fact, Texas is the only state to have a list of its attempted secessions on Wikipedia. What makes this modern attempt to secede—Representative Biedermann’s bill—so unique is that it has earned the endorsement of the Texas Republican Party.
It’s impossible to say just how radical this move is, even though secession is far from unthinkable in this polarised age. No one wants to see a new Civil War. What makes this all the more egregious is that the state Republican Party actually endorsed this call to separate Texas from the rest of the US. This is the first time in 100 years—and the second time ever since the Civil War—that a state’s legislature has introduced articles of secession.
In all probability, the bill is unlikely to pass, but the real story here is the endorsement. One of the tell-tale signs of a party being dead or dying is their embrace of extremism. For instance, the Hawaii Republican Party’s endorsement of the Qanon conspiracy theory caused massive uproar in early February. The same election that saw the rise of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) in Georgia also saw that state’s Republican Party lose the ability to win statewide elections. This problem seems to be one unique to the right, though—you don’t exactly see the Arkansas and Idaho Democratic Parties quoting Marx in their Twitter bios or trying to nationalize huge chunks of the economy.
Back to Texas—the Lone Star State has seen a Democratic surge in the last few years, prompting speculation that the once-safe red Texas could flip to the Democratic column, mostly thanks to changing demographics within the state. The Texas suburbs, like most, are shifting to the left. In 2020, Biden flipped the counties of Tarrant (home of Fort Worth), Hays, and Williamson, which are suburbs of Austin. The urban centers that themselves provide the suburbs are growing massively—Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Dallas have grown by nearly a million people in the last decade, providing another source of worry for the Texas Republicans. Even Biden dropping the ball with Hispanic voters didn’t cost him too much progress in Texas. Trump’s winning margin of 5.6% was the lowest a Republican has ever won Texas with- a big decrease on his 9% win in 2016, whereas Biden’s margin was the closest any Democrat had gotten since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976.
In early 2021, the Texas Democratic Party published an excellently written postmortem on their 2020 efforts that cited the risk associated with canvassing door-to-door during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason they failed in their efforts to flip the state. With COVID-19 unlikely to be a factor in the 2022 and 2024 elections, it remains unseen what the true heights of the Texas Democratic Party can be.
What’s driving the Democrats’ performance in Texas? It could be the incredibly liberal Gen Z. voters, who are just coming of age—Texas is one of the youngest states on average, after all. One of the most common reasons usually given for Texas’s newfound liberal streak, however, is the cascade of people moving to Texas. This flood of new people—3.8 million new Texans since 2010—has been driven in large part by the burgeoning Texas technology industry. Companies like Tesla, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard have all taken part in the mass migration, which has brought about the (entirely correct) fear on the right that those moving from blue states like California could play a hand in flipping the Lone Star State blue. It is because of these new migrants that Texas is looking to gain three more Electoral College votes after the 2020 Census is complete for a total of forty-one votes in the electoral college, second only to California.
Some pundits have compared Texas to California—after all, each state is fairly large, both in land area and population (with California being the first and Texas the second-most populous states, respectively), both have huge shares of the electoral vote, and each state, at quick glance, appears to be staunch supporters of their respective parties—California favors the Democrats, and Texas the Republicans. But the balance here is tipped in favor of the Democrats— Texas has been flying towards the left, whereas California remains stationary in its partisanship. Texas has swung to the Democrats by a total of 15.7 points over the last 20 years (an average margin of 3.14 points more Democratic per presidential election). In that same timeframe, the most recent two decades, California has swung by a 17.4-point margin- also to the Democratic column. California is noncompetitive; Texas isn’t. That means bad news for the Republicans, as they’re in danger of losing their largest prize on election night.
To put in context how big an electoral prize Texas can be, if the Democrats can win all their usual states—every state they’ve consistently won in presidential elections since 2008 plus Texas—they've already won the presidency. The Democrats can lose Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, and still win the presidency with a flipped, 41-electoral-vote Texas. Without any swing state such as Florida or Ohio so much as being considered, a blue Texas would guarantee a Democratic victory.
The fact of the matter is, Democrats are likely to retain Georgia, some Rust Belt states, and can make places like North Carolina competitive. Every single Republican presidential victory in the 21st century, from 2000 to 2004 to 2016, would have ended with the Democrat winning if Texas had voted with the left. There is no Plan B for the Republicans if Texas flips- you cannot build a winning coalition out of small states like Wyoming and Arkansas. The electoral votes just do not add up.
In signing off on that abhorrent succession bill, the Texas Republican Party has resigned itself to a fate that demographics may have already made certain—it is destined to become a minority party in a state it once dominated. Unless the national GOP can pivot and discipline itself enough to put Texas back in play, the potential loss of the Lone Star State threatens the whole Republican Party at large with the same demand it presents to the state party: moderate, appeal to the center, toss out your extremists, or face irrelevance.