How Texas Became Heart of the Right

Article excerpt

Byline: John R. Coyne Jr., SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the 1960s and 1970s, writes Sean P. Cunningham, assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University, "As the national Democratic Party unraveled .. due to political assassinations, rising crime

rates, civil disobedience, racial militancy and intensified factionalism . the Texas Democratic Party slowly crumbled while the national Republican Party assumed the mantle of a redefined conservatism.."

Within this context, conservative Republicans convinced Texans that liberalism, to borrow an elegant Agnewvian phrase, was the philosophy of acid, amnesty and abortion, and the Democratic Party was the party of liberalism.

As a result, conservative Democrats in great numbers joined conservative Republicans in a new alignment built on a conservative philosophy, personified in Ronald Reagan, championing 'law and order,' 'plain folks Americanism,' and 'God-fearing patriotism' - that .. state and national conservatives . used to build a viable and ultimately dominant Texas Republican Party. This was 'cowboy conservatism.'"

By 1980, Texas had become Reagan Country, and ultimately, conservative Republicans came to dominate a political landscape that had been Democratic since the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, holding all 27 of its elected offices and carrying George W. Bush to his second term as president with more than 61 percent of the Texas vote.

It's this process that Mr. Cunningham chronicles, with research drawn from four presidential libraries, gubernatorial papers, interviews and a wealth of local and oral histories, all leavened with rich historical detail and portraits and discussions of the leading figures in recent Texas history and politics - among them, to name just a few, Lyndon Baines Johnson, John Tower, John Connally, Ralph Yarborough, Lloyd Bentsen, George H.W. Bush, Phil Gramm and Bill Clements. Nor were all the movers immediately associated with Texas.

"Few conservative intellectuals had as far-reaching an impact on shaping the ideological convictions of both politicians and the grass roots as William F. Buckley Jr. In March 1967, Buckley, the founder of the influential conservative magazine National Review and descendant of a family with deep roots in Texas, spoke to an audience of Houston conservatives on a subject he dubbed 'the dilemmas of liberalism. …