Bias Alert: I love Texas. At least most of it. Houstonians are terrible drivers. I once collected half the bugs ever to exist on my windshield driving from San Angelo to Midland at night. But overall, it’s great. You’re sort of in the United States, and kinda not. Hawaii is this way too. So is Canada.
Anyway, the thing to remember is Texas isn’t like any other state. To begin with, it was a country of it’s own for about a decade before joining the Stars & Stripes. Lone Star flags are everywhere. Nothing like passing a billboard advertising the “Official Pest Removal Spray of Texas.” Also Texas is really big. Twice the size of Germany.
Yes, it’s a border state with a large Latino population. That doesn’t mean it’s anything like California or Arizona. Sure, after it’s first experience in the U.S. it joined the Confederacy. That doesn’t mean it resembles Alabama or Mississippi. Texas is Texas.
Beto O’Rourke is a Texan. Aside from a few years in New York when Friends was an exciting new show, he’s spent his life in the El Paso area. Poll numbers say he doesn’t know much about running a successful presidential campaign. He may have no clue how to win the Iowa Caucus. He does know his state, particularly after visiting all 254 counties* during his Senate campaign.
*He also bragged about doing this more than 254 times.
It’s hard for the 20 (or 10, depending on how you’re counting) surviving Democratic presidential candidates to distinguish their policy vision. There are few opportunities to get to the left of the field. Unless you’re Joe Biden, polls say moderation is not a virtue.
In the aftermath of the El Paso mass shooting, Beto decided to take a stand. He’s advocating gun confiscation. This is even a leap too far for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Conventional wisdom is that O’Rourke is committing political harakiri.
He doesn’t want all the guns back. Just assault rifles. And he thinks owners should receive fair compensation. Still, whether from principle, desperation, or both, it would seem to make it harder for Beto to ever run in Texas again. This is an open carry state. Or would it?
We have a recent poll from Univision. By a 68/32 margin, Texans are in favor of Congress banning the sale of AR-15 style assault weapons. Taking guns back is different than not selling new ones. I’d suspect the numbers are very different for Beto’s actual plan.
I was still shocked. Maybe this is a bad poll? It did show Trump losing 47/43 to Biden. And 48/42 to Sanders. He’s even trailing Warren 44/42. Except an early August survey from Dallas Morning News/Emerson had Trump trailing both Biden and Sanders. At the time, that one was considered an outlier.
So if we believe the poll, and I think we should, even if you want to shade the numbers a little, how are two-thirds of Texans ok with ending assault rifle sales, and (guessing here) maybe half ok with buying back existing weapons? Does this transfer to places like Wisconsin, where a stereotypical Trump Democrat might own an AR?
The Texas experience with firearms and mass shootings is different. They’ve experienced two recent events (El Paso & Odessa.) Recency impacts poll numbers, particularly regarding gun control. The first major mass shooting of this type was in Texas, from the University of Texas clock tower, back in 1966.
At the same time, Texas is a state with readily available concealed carry permits and ability to open carry in some instances. The governor is a strong firearms supporter. Large cities like Houston and Dallas do not attempt to restrict handguns the way New York City, San Francisco, or Washington D.C. have.
This is a unique situation where Texans may be more motivated to make mass shootings difficult, while having less fear of assault rifle restrictions quickly turning in to limitations on their ability to own and carry handguns, or use a rifle for hunting.
This isn’t a career mistake for Beto. He was trailing badly, and his presidential campaign was lacking relevance. He’s still a huge underdog, but now there’s a purpose for his campaign to exist. He’ll get more media exposure. And the side-effects for him in Texas are likely less than people think, even if or when the scars from the recent shootings heal a little.
But Texas isn’t Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, or any of the other swing states up for grabs in 2020. In places where some voters care about guns, but feel less secure in their ability to keep and use them, and there are already more restrictions, Beto will cause problems for the actual nominee.
The public is moving on this issue. At some point, continued mass killings with a high enough body count, with AR-15s continuing to be the weapon of choice, will cause some voters, even those who very much want to keep their guns, to re-evaluate. November 2020 is likely a bit soon for that.
A majority of the public is currently in favor of gay marriage. That wasn’t the case in November 2004. That year, ballot initiatives in several swing states, to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, helped re-elect George W. Bush.
Even several years later when Joe Biden signaled his support ahead of Barack Obama, the country still wasn’t quite there. It helped Biden and his brand within the Democratic Party. It’s a small, but important component of his current viability.
Similarly, I think this helps Beto’s personal political future, be that in Texas or nationally. However, it doesn’t help his party right now. Texas is Texas. Beto is Beto.