James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said there is a generational change taking place in the Republican Party that coincides with the growing fight between grass-roots tea party conservatives like Cruz, and the more pragmatic business wing of the party, represented by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
“We associate these guys with an era of Republican politics in this state that is in transition and possibly becoming something different,” he said. “These were the guys who were the bedrock donors for the business wing of the Republican Party, and as politics has gotten more polarized, the party has a more ideological bent to it. These were guys in big business who were motivated by classical business interests.”
An example of this pragmatism came in 2011, when Texas legislators debated a law that would have required local police to question the immigration status of the people they encounter. Bob Perry, whose industry relies on immigrants, opposed the measure, and Republican leaders made sure it expired without a vote.
So-called establishment candidates will suffer the most from losing these critical donors, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, an expert on Texas campaign finance. He said Perry and Simmons dwarfed all other Republican donors in Texas.
“The absence of someone like Perry or Simmons hamstrings (establishment candidates) in many respects, and their ability to use their financial advantage against tea party and movement conservatives,” he said. “There is no one left now that has the gravitas to single-handedly decide whether a candidate runs or not, or is viable or not.”
But Corbin Casteel, another Republican campaign consultant, said a new generation will step in to make up for the lost donations.
“While there may be a giving gap now, or in the short run, there is more out there,” he said. “In West Texas (oil fields) there are a lot of new, wealthy conservatives who are just beginning to get involved in the political movement, we’re looking at a whole new generation of major Republican donors coming onto the scene.
(AP Photo: In this June 11, 2007 file photo, Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons is photographed in his North Dallas office.)