WACO, Texas—For two decades, the Texas Republican Party has been the great dissenter as the national GOP veered right on immigration. But it doesn't take very long around Dan Patrick, the Republican who will almost certainly win election in November as the state's powerful lieutenant governor, to realize those days are gone.
While Republican Govs. George W. Bush and Rick Perry prioritized Hispanic outreach and consistently rejected polarizing immigration policies, Patrick—and like-minded new state GOP leaders like Sen. Ted Cruz—are steering Texas Republicans sharply rightward on these issues. Patrick ousted incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a GOP primary this year, mostly behind promises to toughen enforcement at the Mexican border and to repeal the policy of providing in-state public college tuition to young people brought to the U.S. illegally—a plan that the outgoing Gov. Perry signed and still defends.
This dramatic shift, in the state that had previously built the most promising conservative model for attracting Hispanics, underscores how thoroughly immigration hard-liners have regained the advantage in the GOP. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012 despite winning a higher share of the white vote than Ronald Reagan in 1980, Republican interest spiked in passing a comprehensive immigration-reform package that might boost the party's competitiveness among Hispanics. But after the Senate last year approved a bipartisan bill that included a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, conservative resistance derailed the plan in the House.