DALLAS – If there’s one general theme of the CPAC convention in Dallas this weekend, beyond devotion to former President Donald Trump, it’s an unhindered commitment to actively defeat what most people here believe it is an aggressive attack on America by a neo-Marxist left.
Speech after impassioned speech, attendees are encouraged to get active, fight back and push back the Democrats they believe are trying to take over America.
“Whether it is the Liberals, the Marxists or the Democrats, they demand that we abandon our culture,” said Don Huffines, former Texas state senator and now challenger to Texas governor Greg Abbott.
“Patriots, take your rusty freedom swords!” Help me cut the shackles of the government and wake the sleeping sheep from their slumber to help us restore the freedom that was stolen from us! Huffines said, conjuring up Game of Thrones-type imagery to ignite the crowd at the three-day Conservative Political Action Committee, or CPAC, convention in Dallas.
“This is Texas. We will not bow the knee to any man, no government for no reason!
Huffins’ appearance at CPAC is significant as Texas Republicans prepare for the primary season. The Dallas businessman is popular with conservatives at the convention, who blame Abbott for caving in to the Liberals in his pandemic response and accuse him of being a name-only Republican, or RINO.
Now there are two Tory challengers for Abbott in the Republican primary for governor. Allen West, the former leader of the Texas Republican Party and staunch critic of the governor, also declared his candidacy this month.
The opportunities offered by two ultra-conservative Republican gubernatorial contenders in the primary race have taken grassroots Texas conservative activists – like the thousands of people gathered in Dallas for CPAC – into high gear.
“Action and involvement are key here,” said Fran Rhodes, president of the True Texas Project, a grassroots conservative organization founded 12 years ago by members of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.
The organization changed its name to reflect a statewide change, said Julie McCarty, the organization’s founder and a household name in the conservative and popular movement in Texas.
But to label the True Texas Party “Tea Party 2.0” would be an accurate description, she said.
If there is a difference between the group then and today, it is that the True Texas Project is less focused on promoting new candidates and more on holding elected Republicans accountable to conservative priorities, Rhodes said.
“If we succeed in electing new strong Conservatives, in large numbers, then that will be historic,” Rhodes said. “So whatever happens in the election, we will continue to do what we are doing, which is educating and motivating citizens to get involved. “
The organization operates on a classic and grassroots level, encouraging local members to get involved in constituencies, races and local party issues. It organizes training sessions on voter registration and advocacy. He also lobbies in Austin.
During this year’s legislative session, more than 130 representatives from the True Texas Project lobbied in Austin on abortion, gun rights and other Republican priority issues. They testified at hearings, spoke to lawmakers, lobbied committee members and wrote position papers, Rhodes said.
According to McCarty, the group is growing. By early 2021, True Texas Project had three locals. By the end of 2021, it will have 17 locations across the state, she said.
“And we’re just getting started,” McCarty said.
Abbott is seen as having presidential aspirations, with a national focus on the Texas gubernatorial race. It also means that Abbott, fearing fallout from the right-wing party, has steered his campaign in recent weeks to reflect an even more conservative lean.
He said Texas will build its own border wall to stop illegal immigration. By calling for a special legislative session, he put major conservative issues on the agenda, such as electoral integrity, transgender youth in sport, critical race theory and social media censorship.
Before the rise of the Tea Party and the 2014 election, Texas was a fairly traditional, business-friendly Republican party, said Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Over the past seven to eight years, the Texas Republican Party has evolved into a Social Conservative first and a second business party, becoming more conservative, Jillson said.
“Abbott is very aware of this and very sensitive to not allowing anyone … to be systematically to his right,” Jillson said. “So he keeps turning right. And to make sure there isn’t enough space to his right for someone like Don Huffines or Allen West, let alone [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick to steal a walk over him on this side of things.
Both parties are working hard to attract more voters ahead of the 2022 election. Texas Democrats predict that there are up to 2 million unregistered voters who, if registered, would vote Democratic.
Former Beto O’Rourke Rep D-El Paso works on the left, traveling across the state on a campaign-style tour to educate Democrats on voting rights issues and get more registrations . O’Rourke has not announced whether he will run against Abbott, although many Democrats are hoping he will.
The Texas GOP has been threatened in recent years by the diversification and population growth that some see as fueling the growth of the Democratic Party. While Republicans still hold a triumph of power, recent home gains for Texas in the 2018 election have shaken the GOP enough to organize and maintain the status quo in 2020.
That’s why conservative Republican activists, like the thousands here at CPAC this weekend, have said it’s so important to organize and get down to business.
“Popular activism can have a huge impact, especially when it is focused on discussing issues, where it can be more successful,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an independent Republican strategist based in Austin. “It’s harder to take that energy and pick a holder and try to replace it with a stranger.”
Trump has dominated CPAC in recent years, and this year’s convention is no different. Some wonder if such devotion will hinder the future of the party, especially if Trump’s dominance in the party continues to cause divisions within the GOP.
Heavy reliance on Trump in the Republican Party is causing concern for some activists and field organizers.
While everyone is hoping for a savior, there is a lot of work to be done, McCarty said.
“Trump is not going to save us. We have to occupy ourselves and spare ourselves, ”she said.