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LBJ on HBO

All the Way HBO Bryan Cranston

The film version of the award-winning play All the Way premieres on HBO tomorrow night, starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson, still the only president I’m aware of who owned an “aqua car.”

For the upcoming June issue, I recently interviewed playwright Robert Schenkkan about the origin of the play and how it translated to the screen. Schenkkan has deep Texas roots, and his family had a professional connection to Johnson. Here are a few gems from our conversation:

“When we were looking to cast the part, the casting director would ask, ‘What are we looking for?’ And I would say, ‘We need an actor who can be funny, charming, and charismatic and simultaneously terrifying.’ And if you look at Bryan’s career—the balance between Malcolm in the Middle, which is so funny and so broad in its physicality, and then his chilling turn as Walter White in Breaking Bad—he really has all of that as a performer.”

Regarding LBJ’s legacy:

“I do think there is a tragic quality to LBJ. The domestic policy was what was important to him, what was dear to his heart, and what he felt knowledgeable about and secure in. Not foreign policy. He was not a foreign policy expert, and I don’t think he would have ever considered himself one. He goes into Vietnam with his eyes open as early as 1964. You can listen to his phone conversation with Senator Richard Russell in which LBJ complains loudly that he doesn’t know why we’re there. He doesn’t see the point. What’s more, he doesn’t see any way to win, and he doesn’t see any way to get out. This is in 1964. He not only stays the course, but he doubles down and doubles down and doubles down. The fact that he knows that that’s what’s happening even as he can’t help but make those same decisions over and over again is tragic. The loss, the waste, is just staggering.”

Of course, you can’t ask a political question these days without asking about Donald Trump:

“We have a long history of demagogues in this country—Huey Long, Senator Joseph McCarthy. And of course, Lyndon wrestled for a long time with Governor George Wallace, who was the first demagogue to successfully transfer the covert, entrenched Southern racism into a language that would resonate with blue-collar workers in the Midwest and the Northeast. It’s all a nod and a wink, but Trump’s really playing on one of the sad, enduring notes of the American character. I think LBJ would have...

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Abbott’s Feigned Ignorance

Greg Abbott

Of all the predictable things that came from the state Republican convention last weekend, the deference shown to Ken Paxton and Sid Miller by the state’s leadership was particularly depressing. Even as both men do little to prove that they are fit to hold office, Dan Patrick sidestepped the issue with Paxton, telling reporters:

“I don’t know the facts of the case, one way or the other. I haven’t gotten involved in it. It plays itself out.”

Abbott took it a step further a few days ago, suggesting that he has had a productive relationship with the attorney general’s office: “I think he’s doing a good job of working with my office on issues that affect all Texans.” But the governor also repeated the talking point of not knowing enough to comment on the Miller and Paxton cases:

“Because I don’t know the facts concerning any of the allegations against either of them, I have no basis to have concern.”

Of course, this statement is ridiculous on its face. It’s one thing to simply decline to comment; it’s quite another for the governor, who’s the previous attorney general and a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, to say that 1) he doesn’t know the facts and that 2) because he doesn’t know the facts he has no reason to worry.

But Abbott’s saying he doesn’t know about the case rings particularly hollow. When I interviewed him after the legislative session for the July 2015 issue, we had this exchange about Paxton’s legal troubles:

GA: I have not looked into those issues and really am uninformed about those issues. But what I have done is I have dealt with him on a professional level, and I am proud to see that he has taken up my legacy of holding the federal government accountable to the Constitution.

BDS: You’re pleased with the job he’s doing?

GA: Yes.

BDS: If there is an indictment, should he continue to hold office?

GA: I can’t get into any kind of speculation like that. I’m not going to indict anyone here at a press interview. I have no factual knowledge of anything about this, so I am completely unqualified to comment.

So here we are, nearly a year later, and Abbott knows no more now than he did last summer? Perhaps he was too distracted by his new book to look into it. But I suppose that as long as Paxton continues to send out press releases with lines like “Once again, the Obama Administration has overstepped its constitutional bounds,” he must be doing a good job.

...

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Ted Cruz Chooses

tedcruz_0

For Republicans around the nation, it’s a time for choosing. And Ted Cruz, I’d say, has made his choice. His speech at the state GOP convention, on Saturday, conspicuously made no mention of Donald Trump, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee—and in an interview, about an hour before he took the stage, he explained that he hadn’t made up his mind about whether to endorse Trump or even whether to vote for him.

“At this point I’m doing what I think millions of voters are doing, which is watching and listening,” he said, before specifying what he was watching and listening for:

From the beginning our campaign was about fighting for common-sense conservative principles. I am looking for a candidate who will defend those principles—who will fight to reduce the burdens of the federal government on small businesses, which create two-thirds of all new jobs; who will reduce taxes and dramatically simplify the tax code; who will repeal Obamacare; who will protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—religious liberty, the Second Amendment, the Tenth Amendment—and keep our country safe. I’m looking for a commander-in-chief who we can trust to stand with the men and women who risk our lives to defend us; who we can trust to stand with our friends and allies, including, especially, the nation of Israel; and who will do what is necessary to defeat radical Islamic terrorism.

In much of the media speculation these issues are viewed through the prism of personality. I think substance matters far more. And you learn a great deal about what a candidate believes, and about their character, during the course of a campaign. And so at this point I will continue to watch and listen carefully to what the candidates say and how they conduct themselves.

Emphasis added. As the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek put it, after his own sit-down session with Cruz, the man is clearly in no rush to endorse Trump. I’d take that a step further. It’s theoretically possible, I suppose, that Trump can, over the next six months, win the senator over. But by the time Cruz was halfway through his answer I saw that Trump’s hopes of doing so were hopeless.

“You can watch and listen,” I said, “but if the decision comes down to, ‘who can be trusted’ to do anything? Past behavior is predictive of future behavior. So to me that would imply that you might end up without a candidate at all.”

Cruz went oddly silent for a moment, as he did in 2013, ...

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The GOP at a Crossroads

Participants arrive for the opening of the Texas Republican Convention Thursday, May 12 in Dallas.

The Republican Party of Texas’s annual convention is, under normal circumstances, a reasonably high-spirited affair, festooned with Texas flags and strewn with red-meat speeches about the state GOP’s ongoing war on Washington. This year’s convention, which is underway in Dallas, is a much more morose affair. Among Texas’s most ardent conservatives and committed Republicans there is—to put it mildly—a jarring deficit of enthusiasm for the party’s presidential nominee. Since arriving on Thursday, I’ve met exactly one person who admitted to being a Trump supporter, and one who was curious about him, thought not fully committed. The former was a woman working at the media check-in booth, who told me that she’s sick of how politically correct everyone has become. The latter was an Uber driver from South Africa.

Everyone else I’ve chatted with about the upcoming general election—literally everyone else!—is ambivalent at best. And most of them are not ambivalent about Trump; they’re ambivalent about how to proceed in the wake of his emergence as the party’s presumptive nominee. Those who are committed to the GOP, as elected officials, seem to feel that they should, at least nominally, support his candidacy; the question at hand seems to be whether they can bring themselves to do so.

Those who are emotionally or intellectually invested in the Republican Party of Texas, or the principles it supposedly represents, are grappling with what strikes me as a more painful question. They’re under no direct pressure to support Trump, or even to express a preference for him as an alternative to Hillary Clinton; instead, they have to decide whether they can come to terms with the fact that so many of the leaders they’ve trusted and looked up to, like Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, and Dan Patrick, have decided to do so.

The Texas GOP, in other words, is at a crossroads. In addition to being unsure which direction to head, Texas conservatives are, in a sense, not sure what the available directions are. Many, in both groups, are waiting to see how things shake out, specifically when it comes to Ted Cruz, who will address the convention on Saturday. He has yet to endorse Trump, and I’d be surprised if he does so. The convention’s slogan, “Unite to Win,” is a big ask in this case: Cruz is, as many of his colleagues in the Senate have spent the past several months reminding us, not...

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A Time for Choosing

Donald Trump

Yesterday, while I was indulging in tinfoil-hat theories about what might happen if Texas Democrats actually bothered to seriously compete in this year’s general election, I promised to offer some thoughts about the decision that Texas Republicans are now confronting, over whether to support Donald Trump, their party’s nominee for president. And the distress that Texas conservatives have been grappling with this week has obviously been ratcheted up several notches since then. Rick Perry announced yesterday evening that he had done his grappling with the issue at hand, and had, like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, decided to endorse Donald Trump. Not only that, he went a step further than Abbott and Patrick, by saying that he would be open to serving as Trump’s running mate and would, in any case, make active efforts to help Trump win the general election.

This was a surprising turn of events. Perry was among the handful of national Republican leaders who had seemed likely to take a Charles de Gaulle-type stance in response to Trump’s nomination. He was the first major political figure, from either national party, to publicly rebuke Trump’s glibly divisive rhetoric, and when he ended his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination, his closing remarks were uncompromising about Trump, who he then described as “a cancer on conservatism.” Some on the right had even been hoping that should Trump somehow manage to win the nomination, Perry would ride to their rescue, by running as an independent conservative candidate.

Beyond that, Perry’s endorsement of Trump was particularly painful for Texas conservatives, especially the young ones. “ERICA. WTF,” one such source texted me, as the news broke; this might not be intuitively obvious to national observers, but there are about five million Texans who never lived in the state during any gubernatorial administration other than Perry’s until Greg Abbott was elected, and millions more of us for whom the pre-Perry era in Texas politics is a hazy childhood memory. Many of the state’s young conservatives, then, have a natural emotional connection with Perry—a reassuringly familiar presence and, if not exactly a father figure, at least their lifelong yell leader.

My own reaction to the news was relatively stoical. Perry, in my view, was a more effective governor than people give him credit for; he would have been my top choice for this year’s Republican presidential nomination, and I...

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