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Trump's Texas border visit shows the Lone Star State is leading the GOP resistance

NBC News logo NBC News 6/30/2021 Luisita Lopez Torregrosa
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DALLAS — Never one to stand modestly behind, Texas has grabbed the GOP right-wing flank and is taking it deeper, farther, more quickly than any other Republican-led state, outdoing even red-trending Florida.

The Lone Star State’s independent streak and penchant for bragging are the stuff of legend, and some ridicule, too. But its political power and economic prowess are indisputable. With its staggering $1.889 trillion gross domestic product making it the second-richest state in the country and a fast-growing population of 29.2 million, Texas is cementing its standing as the loudest, biggest and arguably baddest voice of the Trumpist right.

Unofficially confirming this status will be former President Donald Trump when he touches down for a tour of the Texas border on Wednesday. He will join Gov. Greg Abbott, who is proposing to build Trump’s long-touted anti-immigrant wall along the Texas border, a move that has won the former president’s support for Abbott’s re-election in 2022 and solidifies the state’s stature as the leading voice of Republican resistance to Joe Biden’s policies.

While Trump and his policies might have been roundly defeated at the national ballot box (whatever the ex-president and his allies claim), it’s undeniable that they’re not just surviving but thriving down here. Texas’ power and size make it clear that there are still two visions of America very much fighting it out — and that the national polls are only one way to assess which side is winning. Because by many other measures, including voting with one’s feet, the Lone Star State is coming out on top.

Take its battle with California. Both assume the demeanor (and budgets and revenues) of independent nations. The Golden State has the country’s largest gross domestic product and is a Democratic bastion, with the party holding both U.S. senators and most of its 53-member congressional delegation. Texas, on the other hand, has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. Republicans hold both U.S. Senate seats and the governorship and dominate the state’s 36-member congressional delegation.

The rivalry between our two largest and richest states would be entertaining if it didn’t have such immediate and long-range impact. They represent polar opposite political and cultural views. While Texas is fast-growing, California as well as other blue-but-cold states are losing population — much of it to Texas.

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Migration from California to Texas has reached record levels, including some of its most well-known high-tech giants. Elon Musk moved Tesla out of the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin, closer to his SpaceX quarters in Boca Chica. High-tech megalith Oracle moved to Austin and Hewlett Packard Enterprise to Houston. Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, will lift off into orbit July 20 from a launch pad at Blue Origin, his space company in Culberson County, West Texas.

Altogether, 700,000 Californians moved to Texas since 2010. That has a profound political payoff as well: New U.S. Census Bureau data show the nation’s population and political epicenter shifting decisively to the Republican states in the South and West.

While Texas added more than 370,000 new residents in 2020, California lost 182,000. Reapportionment of congressional seats to represent the population shifts means Texas will add two U.S. House seats — the most gains in the country. California, meanwhile, will lose a seat for the first time in its 170-year history as a state. And Texas’ two additional seats will almost surely go Republican, since GOP officials will shape the new congressional districts to their advantage.

“Texas is clearly having a moment, especially in comparison to California,” William Fulton, a former Californian who is director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, told me.

Conservatives have long denounced California’s high tax rates and extensive regulations, predicting that residents would leave the state for low-tax, low-regulation states like Texas. The Public Policy Institute of California says many middle- and working-class residents are leaving because of home prices, however.

“California’s housing costs are astronomical,” Bob Shrum, a veteran political strategist who is the director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California, explained over the phone from Los Angeles.

Indeed, the median sales price of a home in Texas in early 2021 was $283,200; in California it was $758,990. That helped the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex lead the country in 2020 population growth, passing Houston to become the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country.

Will those hundreds of thousands of Californians and other out-of-state folks who moved to Texas transform its politics? Or will they only confirm the Republicans’ red-hot grip by giving the state more heft without changing its trajectory.

“The influx of Californians will not change politics in Texas,” according to Fulton. “It’s too small a percentage in a general population of 30 million people. They are not going to move the needle at all. Texas has never been a swing state and won’t be one anytime soon.”

Democrats are pinning their hopes on the state’s diversifying population, which is 40 percent Latino, but even many Latinos are more Republican in Texas. Last year, Republicans won in predominantly Latino areas along the Texas-Mexico border.

Still, Shrum is optimistic about his party’s prospects: “The complexion of Texas is changing, trending more Democratic. There’s a reasonable chance that Texas will become a purple state.”

But there’s no question that right now, any leftward shift is the stuff of fantasy. Texas Republicans are quickly staking out new ground in the culture and political wars that are twisting and splitting the country, ramming through legislation and executive orders that seek to codify the Lone Star State’s deep-red composition, presumably part of Trump’s interest in visiting this week.

The state’s Legislature is set to pass the country’s most restrictive voting measures. The Legislature also placed more limits on abortion, banning the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy. It banned teaching critical race theory. It also loosened control over guns, approving a bill that allows people to carry handguns in public without a license, background check or training.

Of course, California was once a center of right-wing GOP politics before shifting decisively left. It could happen here, too. A new poll suggests former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrats’ perennial hope, or actor Matthew McConaughey, who describes himself as a centrist, could overthrow Abbott in the gubernatorial race. But for now, Texas is friendly country for Trump and those working to reverse the Biden agenda in the GOP’s largest state stronghold.

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