They said it couldn’t be done and, in the end, they were right. Texas had been a one-party state for years. It’s true that the state’s motley, virtually nonexistent opposition party, hardly worthy of the same name as its national counterpart, had put up strong showings in the state in the last few presidential elections, and that the incumbent was a highly polarizing figure whose naked ambition and peculiar personal style caused many in his own party to disparage him behind closed doors, but none of that was enough. That November, Republican John Tower lost to sitting Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson 41 to 58 percent.
But that performance, which looked pathetic to outsiders, looked like an opportunity to the Republican Party of Texas, because things work differently under one-party rule. In the special election next year to fill LBJ’s seat after his elevation to the vice presidency, Tower ran again, caught his opponent flat-footed, and narrowly beat him. Over the years, the state changed, and so did the nation. Republicans started running, and then winning. And here we are.
You could fill a book with the differences between the Texas Democratic Party in 2018 and the state GOP in 1960, just as you could fill a book with the caveats necessary to write any article that suggests there’s anything at all of interest to national observers about Texas Democrats. Many of those caveats have real weight, and I don’t think I’d put any meaningful amount of money on the proposition that the Texas Democratic Party is going to start seizing the levers of power anytime soon.