GOP presidential straw poll shows direction of party

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Friday. Cruz finished first in the party's biennial presidential straw poll. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)

As the Texas Republican Convention came to a close Saturday, the delegates held their biennial presidential straw poll. Unsurprisingly, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won a huge plurality among the plethora of candidates, which included Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the convention's keynote speaker, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, father of Land Commissioner Republican nominee George P. Bush.

 

Perhaps the biggest shock of the straw poll was that Gov. Rick Perry, who has held the top statewide office here for the past 13 ½ years, finished in a distant fourth place. Ahead of him were Cruz, Ben Carson, an obstreperous right-wing physician and folk hero with no political experience, and Paul.

 

These results further exemplify the dominance of a virulent strain in the Texas Republican Party, one in which moderation and pragmatism are displaced by ideology and small-minded rigidness. As this country approaches the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Presidential election, we would all be wise to remember the words of Nelson Rockefeller, a fiercely moderate, if not liberal, one-time Republican governor of New York. Rockefeller, upon losing the Republican nomination for President to Barry Goldwater, a right-wing senator from Arizona, lamented the sorry state of his party in a convention speech marred by cacophonous booing from Goldwater's supporters.

 

"There is no place in this Republican Party for those who would infiltrate its ranks, distort its aims and convert it into a cloak of apparent respectability for a dangerous extremism," Rockefeller said. "The Republican Party must repudiate these extremists."

 

Fifty years later, little has changed. The more common-sense candidates such as Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — or even to a lesser extent, Perry — finished near the bottom of the pack, while dangerous extremists like Cruz and Carson carried the day. For the same group of partisans that endorsed "restoration therapy" for LGBTQ people, I cannot honestly say that I am surprised. But the state truly deserves better.

 

Horwitz is an associate editor.