Home Tea Party Candidates Establishment, or Tea Party? Tough to tell Texas GOP sides

Establishment, or Tea Party? Tough to tell Texas GOP sides

Rick Perry was cheered loudly at a 2009 Tea Party rally at La Grave Field. Bob Booth Star-Telegram archive

Texas Republicans come in almost as many flavors as Blue Bell, with some political swirls mixing in as party primary voting begins Tuesday.

For example, former Gov. Rick Perry is a Tea Party insurgent in the Tarrant County sheriff’s race, backing pistol-packin’, Stetson-wearin’ suburban challenger Bill Waybourn.

(Sheriff Dee Anderson’s dry reply: “When you’re running for a law enforcement job, you want to think twice” about Perry, under felony indictment, “being an endorsement.”)

Yet in the Texas House race in Northeast Tarrant County, Perry is being called Mr. Establishment and Crony Rick.

“Perry’s support, and other Austin insiders’ lining up to help Scott Fisher, simply shows how independent Jonathan Stickland is,” said Stickland’s campaign consultant, Luke Macias.

IT’S CERTAINLY A TWILIGHT ZONE.Republican consultant Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth

With the national race for the Republican presidential nomination muddled, the confusion extends down the ballot.

At the top, newspapers in Texas’ three largest cities endorsed Jeb Bush (in Houston, Ted Cruz’s hometown, and San Antonio) and John Kasich (The Dallas Morning News).

Underneath, campaigners sometimes seem crisscrossed.

Police labor groups, usually derided by Tea Party Republicans as “liberal” and “pro-union,” staunchly support Fisher against unlicensed-carry gun activist Stickland, but side with Waybourn over Anderson.

In East Texas, some faith-and-values conservatives are campaigning alongside Ron Paul liberty activists for Cruz, but dividing bitterly over state and local races. And nobody knows how Donald Trump’s followers will vote.


“It’s certainly a twilight zone,” said Fort Worth political consultant Bryan Eppstein.

Arlington Republican Wayne Ogle, a former councilman and school trustee, described the current state of Texas Republicans: “The popular notion is that the party is some highly organized freeway with each clearly defined group driving in a distinct lane. But it’s more choatic than that. Think Lewisville Lake on July Fourth — ski boats, speedboats, wakeboarders, Jet Skis, a lot of people with a different idea about where to go, all crisscrossing each other.”

For Perry’s part, former political director Wayne Hamilton said the former governor endorses based on relationships and loyalty.

“You’ve definitely got some people out there endorsing on all sides,” he said by phone, adding that much of the confusion is over “the question, what is the ‘Tea Party?’ I’m still waiting for a strong definition.”

If an opponent labels a candidate the “establishment,” Hamilton said he asks, “Who is ‘the establishment?’ 

He mentioned former state party Chairwoman Cathie Adams of Plano: “She’s running around the state saying she’s going to ‘Take back our party.’ Who’s she taking it back from?”

“It’s a very tough time to figure out whether a candidate is ‘the establishment,’ or an ‘insurgent,’ ” Hamilton said. “The insurgents are now apparently the establishment.”

But they all campaign as conservative.

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