In recent weeks, more than a few groups – including one on whose board I serve – have denounced various aspects of the Texas Republican Party’s platform.

Indeed, there’s a lot to criticize. In addition to its absurd call for so-called “reparative therapy” for homosexuals and bans on pornography, the platform draft includes nativist language on immigration and an attack on vaccination. There’s also some conspiracy theory garbage opposing Sharia law and the United Nations’ Agenda 21.

A few parts of the platform seem downright sloppy: one provision calls for the repeal of all laws “regarding the production, distribution or consumption of food.” I’m sympathetic to what the writers of this were probably thinking, but taken literally, the provision would make it legal to label jars of baby food as containing “carrots and peas,” even if what they really contained was fermented gerbil vomit.

It also includes some foreign policy planks that somebody must care about but that seem quite out of place for what is, after all, a state party.

For all its real flaws, however, the platform is a pretty decent summation of current streams of thought among the populist, socially conservative right. The current draft calls for the outright repeal of the Patriot Act as well as the National Defense Authorization Act provisions that allow the use of military tribunals for trying terrorists. Both provisions would probably get more votes in the Democratic caucus than the Republican one. Previous iterations of the Texas GOP platform have also called for usury laws—government price controls on interest rates—and mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.

Frankly, much of the platform’s weirdness and its strong populist flavor come from the unusual way that Texas drafts its platform. The platform comes from a drafting committee, just as most other state platforms do. But where most party platforms typically are written by insiders for media consumption, the Texas GOP platform is debated and rewritten by anybody who takes time off and pays the fee to attend the party convention. The result is that it’s a true “grass roots” platform that reflects the feelings of the party’s activists, rather than its officeholders.

People with a pet issue can usually get it in, so long as it isn’t too contentious a topic. And I know this for a fact. In 2012, the Heartland Institute’s then-Texas director, attending the convention in her own private capacity, got some language into the platform on property insurance that I helped her write.

This method of writing the platform serves to tell office-holders what their grassroots are really thinking, rather than serving as a manifesto written by those officeholders. The platform may well pull Texas office-holders in a populist, social conservative direction, but it doesn’t necessarily prove much about how they would govern.

A group of Democrats coming together and voting in the same way would likely call for vastly higher taxes; a straightforward government takeover of health care; a forced conversion to “green energy” that would wreck the economy; an end to secret ballot elections for unions throughout the country; imposition of racial quotas on private employers; government bans on “unhealthy” food; outright confiscation of guns; laws against “hate speech”; Internet censorship; denial of broadcast licenses to “unbalanced” (read: conservative) media; new restrictions on prayer in public; and taxpayer funding for partial-birth abortion. And there would probably be a long Noam Chompsky-inspired rant against corporations thrown in somewhere as well.

Only a handful of Democratic politicians currently in office support any of these things in public and most would probably oppose them if asked. Many Democratic voters would probably oppose them too. But all are popular with certain parts of the Democratic base and a left wing populist platform would probably write a platform containing all of them.

My point isn’t that the Texas Republican platform is irrelevant: it does reflect the views of a certain portion of the Republican Party and may influence their views. But nobody should mistake it for a manifesto on how Republican officeholders in Texas or anywhere else plan to govern.


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