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Vital Signs

Enter Stage Right

In the past, Republican primaries in Texas were won and lost on a wide variety of issues—taxes, ties to the community, money, education, abortion, agriculture.  Usually, candidates who can unite a handful of major GOP donors (most of whom own large businesses in the state) have a major advantage in the primaries.  Then, in 2006, the establishment started to lose control.  First, several incumbent state legislators lost—a rare occurrence in Texas GOP primaries.  This happened, in part, because of the legislature’s failure to pass a school-finance and property-tax-relief package; by the time it had passed, in May 2006, it was two months after the primary.

There was another development, however—one with far greater long-term consequences.  Immigration became the most significant issue in Texas Republican politics, threatening to break up the historic coalition of blue-collar, socially conservative Reagan Democrats and pro-business Republicans.

For over a decade, the state’s GOP leadership worked overtime to prevent immigration from becoming a campaign issue.  Republicans who campaigned on cutting illegal immigration suddenly found that major donors did not want to meet with them.  Former Gov. George W. Bush stated clearly that he opposed “English only” laws and that he preferred “English plus” (whatever that means).  In fact, as governor,...

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