This is a weird election year — on that much, everyone seems to agree. But could it get even weirder? A new poll says that most Texans who back Donald Trump for president would support secession should he lose to Hillary Clinton in November. What’s more shocking is one in four voters in Texas overall support the move, and 15 percent said they were unsure.
So is Texas independence, or, if you can stomach it, #Texit nearly upon us? Probably not. A move so drastic would require broad public support, and hardly anything has that these days — even in Texas, where a certainly non-negligible 41.4 percent of the state’s electorate voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Readers with long memories may recall that in the wake of that election, a petition on WhiteHouse.gov requesting that the federal government “peacefully grant the State of Texas to withdraw from the United States” gained over 100,000 signatures. The incident drew considerable attention, but nothing came of it, and after what was surely much painstaking consideration, the Obama administration denied the petition’s request.
But what if Texas did secede? What would happen?
In 1861, secession led to the bloodiest war in American history. In 2016, an armed conflict on U.S. soil seems inconceivable. On the other hand, the federal government holds nearly three million acres of land in Texas. It seems equally inconceivable that the United States would be willing to abandon these assets, so a peaceful arrangement would have to be reached between Texas and the United States. That’s not impossible, especially if Texas pursues independence through a referendum similar to the Scottish independence vote in 2014 or, contain your nausea, the Brexit vote this year.
If we assume such an arrangement is reached, and war is averted, we can move on to the political and economic consequences of Texit. Secessionists like to argue that Texas has an economy large enough to stand on its own. The 2012 petition claimed that Texas has the world’s 15th largest economy, a statement Politifact rated “true.”
That makes Texas a better candidate for secession than, say, Mississippi, with its economy the size of Slovakia’s. But prosperity wouldn’t last. In 2009, Annie Lowrey of Foreign Policy Magazine pointed out that “a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower.” A more conciliatory United States might simply discourage Texas’ inclusion in trade groups like NAFTA and the WTO. A less conciliatory United States would likely saddle Texas with a trade embargo and pressure its allies to avoid business with the new nation.
On the other hand, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes for Forbes, Texas “has in spades everything that made America’s economy so great — lots of land, natural resources, [and] deep human capital.” Texas also has a more favorable regulatory environment than the United States at large. This could make Texas a magnet for business and manufacturing, but only if the new republic presses its advantages, and not if the U.S. has anything to say about it.
That’s the roadblock we can’t seem to avoid. The welfare of an independent Texas would still be largely dependent on the goodwill of the United States, raising the question of whether it would really be independent after all.
No matter how much they hate Hillary Clinton, most conservatives in Texas realize that there are better options than secession. Namely, if the Clintons return to the White House, Republicans will likely have their best shot in years at retaking it in 2020 — just ask once, future and perpetual presidential candidate Ted Cruz. And for that, #Texit will have to wait.
Groves is a government sophomore from Dallas. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.