by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If Texas is an exaggerated version of America, the Texas Republican Party is an exaggerated version of Texas. Within the party, GOP primary voters make up the conservative base, and among that group, the thousands of activists and volunteers who attend the state party convention every year are the most staunchly conservative Republicans in Texas.
But when activist conservatism gets distilled down the level of the state GOP convention in the reddest state in America, it can sometimes be hard to tell which competing ideological faction is more conservative. What isn’t hard to tell is that tribalism and a growing insistence on ideological purity have begun to afflict Texas Republicans in unsettling ways, just as it has across the political spectrum nationwide.
The booths lining the exhibition hall at the convention were object lessons in that tribalism. A booth for Texas Against Legalizing Marijuana was right next to the Texas Hemp Industries Association. Nearby were booths for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition and Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism. There was a booth for the Texas Nationalist Movement, the John Birch Society, Open Carry for Texas, a group advocating for a constitutional convention of the states, and a group calling for tougher voter ID laws.
What these disparate factions have in common is a commitment to ideological purity around what it means to be conservative—and, by extension, what it means to be a Texas Republican. But ideological purity means ideological purges, and on many issues, GOP activists believe there is only one “correct” conservative position on any given issue.