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Texas GOP convention demonstrates far-right views shaping the party

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Thousands of Republican activists meeting in Houston this weekend for the state’s party convention agreed to a resolution that rejects the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and refers to Joe Biden as an illegitimate president.

The delegates also called for the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed to end discrimination against Black Americans at the polls.

Separately, a party platform presented to convention delegates labeled homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” According to the Texas Tribune, the platform also advocates for children to learn in school about “the humanity of the preborn child,” promoting new messaging after the state has taken steps to vastly restrict abortion.

And less than a month after 19 children and two teachers were shot to death at a Texas elementary school, convention delegates adopted a formal “rebuke” of Sen. John Cornyn (R) for engaging in bipartisan gun control talks. Attendees also loudly booed him when he gave a convention speech Friday when he tried to explain potential legislation.

The convention resolutions and platform carry no force of law but are intended to serve as a mission statement for GOP activities in the state for the next two years. It also offers a window into how the Republican grass roots have been edging further to the right and how the rejection of Biden’s 2020 election victory has become a key principle for the party.

The rhetoric on gay rights in particular represents a reversal after years of growing comfort within the Republican Party with equal rights for gay Americans and polls showing large majorities of voters now support same-sex marriage while opposing discrimination.

It comes amid a surge in hate speech and violence directed at LGBTQ people and a new push among staunch conservative circles to attack even the mere mention of sexuality as somehow “grooming” children.

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The Texas Tribune reported that party delegates rejected an effort to soften the language on homosexuality from a delegate who said it would not help the party.

“We are the Republican Party of Texas, not the Westboro Baptist Church,” the Tribune reported the delegate said, referring to the extremist church whose members travel the country to hold anti-gay rallies at public events. The Tribune said other delegates at the convention, which lasted from Thursday to Saturday, laughed and booed at the comment.

Votes from the more than 5,000 delegates in attendance on whether to formally accept the language into the platform have not yet been tallied, but party chairman James Wesolek said planks presented to delegates are generally accepted.

The party also blocked the Log Cabin Republicans, a long-standing group representing gay Republicans, from having a booth at the convention, a decision that drew a rebuke from Donald Trump Jr., who said in a statement to Breitbart that it amounted to “canceling a group of gay conservatives who are standing in the breach with us.”

Intraparty divisions were also on display in a video circulated by right-wing personality Alex Stein showing Stein and supporters accosting Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) in a hotel hallway, calling him traitor and “eyepatch McCain” — a slur coined by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. For months, Crenshaw, who wears an eyepatch because of an injury sustained while serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, has been heckled as a Republican in Name Only, or RINO, like deceased former senator John McCain.

In response, Crenshaw tweeted, “This is what happens when angry little boys like @alexstein99 don’t grow up and can’t get girlfriends.”

Although a wide range of Republican figures stepped forward this weekend to denounce the treatment of the elected official and military veteran, the confrontation was a reminder of internal divisions within the Republican Party and how activists now reject even previously popular and loyal figures.

Meanwhile, the party adopted a resolution that declared the 2020 election violated the U.S. Constitution and that “substantial election fraud in key metropolitan areas significantly affected the results.”

“We reject the certified results of the 2020 Presidential election, and we hold that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States,” the resolution continued.

The move came days after the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 outlined evidence showing that top campaign aides to Donald Trump and other members of his inner circle repeatedly told the former president that claims of fraud were false. But the Texas resolution shows how thoroughly Trump’s obsession with the election has become ingrained as a core belief for his party.

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“It’s like these people live in some kind of parallel universe that is hate filled and conspiracy filled and have a twisted view of our democracy and Constitution,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s almost like these people are on a psychotic, drug-induced trip.”

Texas faces a key gubernatorial election in November which will pit incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott against Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. As the convention opened Thursday, party chairman Matt Rinaldi predicted the GOP would make gains in the fall.

“A red wave is going to sweep across Texas and this nation and begin a new era,” he said, calling on the party “to take the fight directly to the left and go on offense.”

“This means using our state majority to define the debate. This means influencing the public opinion instead of following the polls,” he said.

The rebuke of Cornyn — a popular figure among Texas Republicans who won the nomination for reelection in 2020 with 76 percent of the vote — shows the unwillingness of party faithful to offer any concessions on gun rights, even as polls show large majorities of Americans back congressional action.

Cornyn is part of a bipartisan group of senators that includes 10 Republicans who have advanced a framework for new gun provisions, including the closing of the so-called boyfriend loophole, federal grants to urge states to adopt red-flag laws that allow authorities to keep guns away from people judged to represent a threat to themselves or others and expanded background checks for gun buyers under age 21. Senators must still translate the broad agreement into legislative language.

Aides involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe their status said the talks continued productively over the weekend and that there was no sign the Texas backlash had changed their trajectory. Senate leaders are hoping to hold votes on the deal later this week.

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The state GOP resolution offers a sense of the pressure being applied to Cornyn from the right as he attempts to navigate the negotiations. It rejects red-flag laws, waiting periods and restrictions on younger gun buyers, declaring “those under 21 are most likely to be victims of violent crime and thus most likely to need to defend themselves.”

After he was booed Friday, Cornyn retweeted journalist Scott Braddock, who reported that Cornyn had been telling supporters: “I’ve never given in to mobs and I’m not starting today.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

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