Could Texas Swing the Election?: The Armadillo Hail Mary Pass

Polls have Biden and Trump neck and neck in the Lone Star State. Could the traditionally Red State give Biden the ‘overwhelming victory’ he needs to avoid a contested election?

By Anatole d’Ecotopia

Photo by Matthew T Rader

Let’s get one thing out of the way, right away– in any normal year in any normal election cycle… we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The state of Texas has been reliably red in presidential politics ever since Lyndon Johnson famously predicted that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would move The South from the Democratic Party for at least a generation. With the exception of Humphrey in 1968 and Carter in 1976, Texas’ Electoral votes have followed LBJ’s prediction to the letter.

There are reasons to believe that this could change. Even though the Deep South will likely remain Deep Red past the end of the American Republic, Texas is not the Deep South — at least… not all of it is. Certainly, East Texas might as well be Louisiana or Arkansas, but other regions of the state have their own unique identities, their own reasons for supporting Republican candidates and Republican policies. And even though it’s mostly about racism… not all of it is. It can be quite the challenge to separate out cultural conservatism from simple racism, but there is a difference — even though it is typically too slight to matter in presidential politics.

And demographics are no more on the side of the GOP in Texas than anywhere else. The Grand Old Party is very indisputably the Grand Old Party — and very indisputably the party of old white men. As the GOP’s core demographic ages out of the population and the GOP’s core philosophy ages out of 21st century relevance, recruiting replacements as old white men continue to become dead old men has been an increasing challenge — deadly outliers like Kyle Rittenhouse notwithstanding. 

This challenge is especially likely to impact the Texas Republican Party, as rural parts of the state dry up and urban centers increasingly become home to populations that are increasingly multicultural, liberal, and diverse. Texas could eventually wind up being “blue” the same way states like Oregon are — on the basis of primarily Democratic tendencies in highly populated urban areas outweighing the Republican leanings of lightly populated rural counties.

But “eventually” isn’t now. The purpose of this article is twofold: evaluate possible scenarios for delivering Texas as a Biden win; evaluate the potential impact of such a win. The likelihood of an “Armadillo Hail Mary Pass” is, admittedly, slim… but the impact could be staggering.

If such a thing were to happen, Texas Republicans would have only themselves to blame. Texas is a “winner take all” state, despite repeated challenges posed by state Democrats in favor of proportionally distributing electoral results. The most recent such challenge occurred in 2019, and was argued all the way up to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which confirmed a lower court’s dismissal of that lawsuit, brought by League of United Latin American Citizens. “Winner takes all” means that even a slim margin of victory by Joe Biden would deliver all  of Texas’ 38 electoral votes to the Democratic Party — very possibly delivering the election as well.

This would require, among other things, an acceleration of a shift already occurring. Trump’s Texas popular vote win over Clinton in 2016 was by the slimmest such margin to occur yet in this century — 9%. While that is still a big number, it hardly compares to Richard Nixon’s 33% margin in Texas in 1972, or even George W’s not-quite 23% in 2004. 

To get a better sense of these numbers, let’s average Texas’ 2000 and 2004 results (i.e., the Bush presidency) and compare them to the averaged results for 2008 and 2012 (the Obama Presidency). Then let’s compare those results to Trump’s 2016 Texas win. 

The averaged GOP victory margin in Texas for the Bush elections works out to 22%. The averaged margin (again GOP victory margin in Texas) for the Obama era works out to 15%. Extrapolating a trend from 22% to 15% to 9%  — and, again, on the basis of the numbers alone — a reasonable assumption for Trump’s Texas victory margin in 2020 would work out somewhere around 3%.

The core assumption here is that the GOP’s narrowing Texas margins are representative of known demographic and cultural shifts. This is a reasonable assumption. If it is true, it means that the goal posts for that Hail Mary pass just got a lot closer. It’s still a Hail Mary Pass, but it’s no longer a fundamental impossibility… just very unlikely. It would require, at bare minimum, at least retaining Democratic margins from 2016 in urban areas, as well as turning parts of the state — most notably, South and far West Texas — known for having gone Democratic in other recent elections. So, yeah… there’s a chance.

Assuming that long shot came in, the results could be pretty interesting.

For starters, it would not only go a long way toward the much-needed repudiation of Trump’s legitimacy, it would also go a long way toward establishing a Biden electoral win. Only California delivers more electoral votes. California plus Texas equals almost a third of the 270 votes needed to win. Were Trump denied Texas, it would mean that the Biden campaign could focus as much attention and legal resources as needed to fight Trump’s inevitable attempts at claiming victory in disputed battleground states — where the process of determining the winning candidate could potentially take weeks. It would also help strengthen the resolve of a party with a known tendency to go squishy.

Were Trump successfully denied a second term in part because of a Biden win in Texas, it would mean that a state with a known proclivity toward considering a second succession had prevented the disintegration of the Union (or least postponed that potential inevitability). Texas could finally be forgiven for Ross Perot.

What’s even more interesting, though, is what such a thing might mean for the political landscape of Texas itself. Being politically progressive in Texas is a fairly thankless task, even in urban areas where disenchanted progressives can at least commiserate over a beer or three. In more rural parts of the state… it can be downright dangerous. 

Playing a significant role in denying Trump the permanent banana republic kleptocracy he so deeply desires would energize and empower people who have kept faith with their political convictions… and received, to date, fairly little in return. It would prove that change really is possible, and that there are other ways to escape Red State Hell than moving halfway across the country (mind you, there are other reasons for such transitions). An energized and empowered progressive movement in Texas could accomplish a great deal.

So much so that there’s not one single reason to not go for the Armadillo Hail Mary Pass, in this most desperate game of political football. If it’s a long shot that fails, nothing’s changed. But if it’s a long shot that wins… it changes everything

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