Image Credits: Todd Wiseman/The Texas Tribune.

California has 55 Electoral College votes. New York and Florida have twenty-nine. Texas is in the middle with thirty-eight. In recent years, we’ve had a series of very close presidential elections, including two contests where the winner actually lost the popular vote. The 2000 election turned on the outcome of Florida, while the 2004 election turned on the outcome of Ohio (but only because Bush won Florida). In 2016, Trump’s victory was a little more comfortable, but not by much. Had he lost Florida and one other midwestern state, he would not have been elected president.

The basic contours of the red/blue divide have remained largely consistent, with Florida being at the fulcrum that decides success versus failure. Trump’s success in Pennsylvania and the industrial midwest changed things up a bit, giving the Republicans a pathway to victory that didn’t absolutely require they win in Florida, but still left them with no margin for error without it.

For the Republicans, this has been possible because they could rely on Texas’s 38 Electoral College votes. Without them, there is no realistic scenario where they could win the presidency. For years, people have been predicting that a day would come when Texas becomes competitive, but most have seen that scenario playing out for the first time in 2028 or even later. In might be that the date will arrive earlier, perhaps as soon as 2020.

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll buttresses that suspicion.

Half of the registered voters in Texas would vote to reelect President Donald Trump, but half of them would not, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Few of those voters were wishy-washy about it: 39% said they would “definitely” vote to reelect Trump; 43% said they would “definitely not” vote for him. The remaining 18% said they would “probably” (11%) or “probably not” (7%) vote to give Trump a second term.

A scenario where half the voters say they will vote one way and half say they will vote the other way more than meets the definition of a competitive race. The president has to be alarmed to see that he’s actually behind 43 percent to 39 percent among people who claim to have already decided. He does better with those who are less certain.

This isn’t the only data point. Trump’s own internal polling from March showed him only two points ahead in Texas in a hypothetical matchup against Joe Biden. A late May/early June Quinnipiac poll showed Biden leading Trump in the Lone Star State by a 48 percent to 44 percent margin, and Trump only leading other Democrats narrowly and within the margin of error.

In the past, you might think that if Texas is competitive, the election is already lost for the Republicans, but that might not be the case in 2020. The state is changing demographically much faster than other states. Its electorate is getting more ethnically and racially diverse at a rapid rate, and it’s attracting a large influx of non-conservative people who are coming there for work.  Add to that, that Trumpism doesn’t sell much better in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston than it sells in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Washington, DC. When all these factors are combined together, Texas could be leapfrogging other states like Georgia and Arizona that have been moving in the Democratic Party’s direction. It’s not impossible that Texas could decide whether or not Trump is reelected.

But even if that’s still not the likeliest scenario, it’s beginning to look like Texas will be a battleground state. The Republicans cannot afford to lose it and they’ll never be able to afford losing it. Once it goes blue, that is the end of the Republican Party in its current conservative movement iteration. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to play around with the Electoral College calculator and try to cobble together a plausible majority for the GOP without Texas.

This is why Republicans are starting to freak out.

Some Republicans have attributed the outcome last fall, in which the GOP also suffered losses in state legislative races, to [Sen. Ted] Cruz’s unpopularity and the resources invested by [Beto] O’Rourke and his allies, a feat Democrats are unlikely to repeat in a national presidential contest. Senior Republican strategists in Texas are warning against that line of thinking.

“Everybody thinks it was a Cruz-Beto thing. But it’s a mess,” a GOP adviser said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. “Independents are behaving like Democrats — like they did in 2018.”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas has also been raising the alarm: “In 2018, we got hammered not only in the urban areas but in the suburbs, too.”

In 2018, the Texas GOP lost several seats in Congress and a bunch of state legislative seats, and that may have been the proverbial canary in a coal mine. I think they realize that a lot more is at stake here than just whether Trump can be reelected. They’re worried that no conservative Republican will be electable if they don’t fix the problems the polls suggest they’re about to experience.

The loss of Texas has the potential to change the political shape and future of the country like no other event. For that reason, it’s worth a heavy push by the Democrats.

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