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Will Texas Republicans quit Donald Trump?

The emergence of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as an alternative in the 2024 presidential primary could have Texans pondering their choice.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott
(from left) Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott greet President Donald Trump at Dallas Love Field on Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

There are times when a relationship, no matter how good it’s been, has to end.

It’s a staple of the blues — realizing that it’s over, but reluctant to let go. It’s outlined in the blues standard “I can’t quit you baby,” a simmering song about holding on to a dying love. I prefer Little Milton’s version.

Some political relationships don’t last either, and there comes a time to walk away.

On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump is expected to announce another run for the White House, which could leave some Republicans across the country pondering whether to leave Trump for someone else — such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is frequently mentioned as a 2024 contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

Trump is lashing out at DeSantis, proof that he sees the man he helped become a rising star as a political rival.

The prospect of a Trump/DeSantis matchup in the 2024 GOP presidential primary has me wondering: Will Texas Republicans quit Trump?

One Texas GOP member of Congress is considering his options.

On Sunday’s Lone Star Politics, a political show produced by KXAS-TV (NBC 5) and The Dallas Morning News, U.S. Rep. Jake Ellzey did not say whether he would support another Trump campaign for president.

Ellzey, a Waxahachie Republican, won a special congressional election last year to replace the late Ron Wright, beating Trump-endorsed candidate Susan Wright for the seat.

“I am looking for an aspirational, unifying presidential candidate much in the vein of Ronald Reagan,” Ellzey said. “Our era today looks very much like 1979, with a nation that seems to feel divided with energy shortage that are self-created, with a president that’s not particularly strong. And we’re looking for somebody to bring us all together the way that Ronald Reagan did.”

Ellzey added he would support a “positive candidate speaking well of other people.”

“If I can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” he said of the approach the next GOP presidential candidate should take. “I support will be somebody of that nature.”

That’s not a description of the way Trump campaigns.

In 2016, Trump thrilled his supporters with an unconventional data-driven campaign to beat heavily favored Hillary Clinton for president. Trump’s Make America Great Again movement led to legions of loyal followers. As he once said during a 2016 campaign stop in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick photographs Air Force One as it takes off from Dallas Love Field Airport after President Donald Trump participated in a roundtable conversation about race relations and policing and attended a fundraiser at a private residence on Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Though he hailed from New York, Trump was an instant hit in Texas. The Lone Star State provided him with more campaign cash than any other state. That’s a nugget often cited by Roy Bailey, the Dallas businessman who served as co-chairman of Trump’s finance team.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick chaired Trump’s Texas presidential campaigns, and Attorney General Ken Paxton brought the unsuccessful Supreme Court lawsuit — which critics dubbed frivolous — to overturn the 2020 election results in several battleground states.

Texas Republicans seem to love Trump, but nationally, the thrill may be gone.

He’s being blamed in some circles for costing Republicans a chance to win the Senate and a huge majority in the House.

As it stands, Republicans are projected to narrowly win the House, but Democrats will hold the Senate. That’s a big disappointment, since the party outside the White House generally makes impressive gains during midterm elections. And this year voter uneasiness about the economy was supposed to assure a Republican red wave.

It didn’t happen.

One of the reasons the wave became a trickle is because voters rejected Trump-backed candidates who were election deniers and conspiracy theorists. They lacked political or public service experience.

More moderate or experienced candidates that would have appealed to a general election crowd lost to Trump-backed candidates in primaries. Had he stayed out of certain contests, perhaps the results would have been different.

Many Republican leaders believe conservatism is a winning message, but they fear the reemergence of Trump as a presidential candidate will hurt their chances to win the White House, as well as races up and down ballots across the country. As much as Trump mobilizes Republicans, he’s a rallying cry for Democrats and independent voters.

Donate Texas
Republican and Trump merch for sale during a Collin County GOP Election Night Watch Party on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, at Haggard Party Barn in Plano, TX. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Up until Saturday night, when Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly beat Trump-backed Adam Laxalt to clinch the Senate for her party, Republicans were hoping Trump would stay out of Georgia, where a runoff between Trump-backed Republican Hershel Walker and Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock would have settled the Senate battle. The Democrats’ victory in Nevada makes that race moot on the question of Senate control.

Still, Texas Republicans will have decisions to make about Trump.

Not only is DeSantis a possible contender for president, but Sen. Ted Cruz, the last Republican standing against Trump in the 2016 primary, also could opt for another presidential run.

If DeSantis does run for president, Texas becomes a critical state for his GOP rivals. Assuming DeSantis wins his home state in a presidential primary, where he was easily reelected last week with a cross-section of support, Texas and its bounty of delegates would be a potential life-line to his opponents.

Trump has a Texas advantage.

In this year’s primaries, he backed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Patrick and Paxton. He also delved into local races. In Tarrant County, he successfully endorsed Tim O’Hare for county judge and Phil Sorrells for district attorney. And in Collin County, former McKinney council member Frederick Frazier won a statehouse race with Trump’s support.

“Trump’s endorsement of Abbott in the primary prevented anyone from outflanking Abbott on the right,” said conservative political consultant Matt Langston. “And Cruz has benefited greatly from Trump helping him rehabilitate himself with conservatives after he didn’t endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention that year. There’s a lot at stake here and Trump can play those chips.”

President Donald Trump
FILE – President Donald Trump talks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a visit to Lake Okeechobee and Herbert Hoover Dike at Canal Point, Fla., March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)(Manuel Balce Ceneta / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Straw polls taken at the Texas Republican Convention in June revealed Trump with a 54% to 30% lead over DeSantis. In a race without Trump, DeSantis had 71% of the vote, with Cruz a distant 9%. Abbott had 1% in both surveys.

It’s possible that the landscape has changed since June, but Trump appears to have Texas wired.

No, Texas Republicans can’t quit Trump, nor will they put him down for a while.

Correction: The governor of Florida is Ron DeSantis. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name.

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