James Dickey on Tuesday night reclaimed the chairmanship of the Travis County Republican Party that he lost to Robert Morrow, to much national to-do, in the party’s March 1 primary.
Dickey won with the votes of 62 of the 92 precinct chairs who filled a room at the Crowne Plaza Austin for more than 31/2 Tuesday night. Twenty-six votes went to Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin political consultant with national and state political experience, including managing U.S. Sen. Sen John Cornyn’s 2014 re-election campaign, and two went to Matt Lawrence, a political unknown. Two precinct chairs abstained.
In an interesting turn during the debate before the vote — but not a consequential one in terms of the outcome — the candidates were asked whether they backed Donald Trump for president. Steinhauser, who as a top aide to former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey at FreedomWorks helped seed the national tea party movement, said he, in good conscience, could not.
“I’m going to work my way from the bottom of the ballot on up and I’m certainly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I can’t tell you I am going to vote for Donald Trump,” said Steinhauser, who said that he believed the Republican nominee would win by a comfortable margin in Texas.
Steinhauser said he thought he was in sync with Dickey on that.
But,when it came Dickey’s turn to answer the question, he said that, while Trump was not his original candidate and while he had been an advocate at the Republican National Convention for the right of delegates to vote their conscience, he was never a “never Trump” person and felt a party chairman really had to support the whole ticket from top to bottom.
Dickey said that while Trump was “not my guy” before he became the nominee, neither was Mitt Romney, John McCain or Bob Dole in years past.
“I’ve had decades of `not my guy’ and I still go out there and work for my nominee,” Dickey said to applause.
Dickey also said that Trump’s ability to enlarge the electorate by bringing new voters to the polls offered an opportunity for outnumbered Travis County Republicans against what he described, in Clinton, as the weakest Democratic nominee since Michael Dukakis.
It was that unusually high turnout in the March primary that spelled doom for Dickey and victory for Morrow, a man whose provocative persona and fringe politics would have alienated an electorate that knew more about him but may have been drawn to him by his common name and his being listed first on the ballot.
The party had been looking for ways to remove Morrow, who wore a jester’s hat that became his trademark, and when he filed to be a certified write-in candidate for president in August, he violated a ban on party chairs running for other office and his tenure was ended.
The gathering of Travis County Republican Party precinct chairs began with a report from acting chairman David Duncan and T.J. Scott, the temporary treasurer, suggesting that, apart from the bedlam Morrow’s ascent had brought to the party and its reputation, Dickey’s tenure had left the party with very little money in the bank — about $6,000 in all — and its federal and state filings in some disarray.
Duncan, who had publicly criticized what he counted as Dickey’s mismanagement, had announced his intention to run to be permanent chair. But he opened the meeting by saying the demands of his family and ministry came first and he would not run. He said after the vote that, “I’ve worked with James in the past and I can work with him in the future.”
“I’m not perfect,” said Dickey, who in his remarks to the assembled precinct chairs, announced that he had brought with him three donations from individuals totaling $20,000 that would enable the local party to do what it needs to do in the last seven weeks before the election.
Steinhauser had offered himself as a fresh start and somebody who could bring sophisticated fund raising, social media and messaging skills, as well as a track record, in Cornyn’s campaign, of actually winning the Hispanic and Asian vote.
He was, however, considerably younger than most of the precinct chairs and far less well known to them than Dickey.
Among Steinhauser’s clients is U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who on Tuesday criticized Sen. Ted Cruz for not supporting Trump for president.
As the last of the party activists departed Tuesday, Dickey said, “It’s nice to have the Republican Party in Travis County back on strong footing and to have the precinct chairs right the mistake that unfortunately some voters made without really being careful and I hope that’s a lesson that everybody takes from this.”
If you don’t know who you’re voting for, he said, “please do not guess — there is the possibility of a very bad result.”
“Please only make informed choices,” Dickey said.