President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke hosted competing rallies in El Paso earlier this year. Jesus Rosales for The Texas Tribune
If the political conversation one year from now is what it is today, every candidate on the ballot — from the people seeking the presidency to the people running for local school boards — is going to have to take a position on impeachment.
And if the storyline has changed by then, it will be less a change in subject than another season of a familiar TV show about the adventures of Donald Trump.
Sure, local issues will be debated here and there, but the election year ahead — at least right now — is shaping up to be more like a referendum on national events and personalities.
Particularly the attention-gobbling personality in the White House.
The furor over Trump’s impeachment might not be in the headlines in a year, fading like the Mueller report did, but it’s hard to imagine a pre-election climate that isn’t centered on his reelection bid.
And it’s hard to imagine a campaign season that doesn’t force every candidate on the ballot — friend or foe of the president — to take a position attacking or defending him.
You don’t have to wait a year to see this happening. It’s happening now.
It’s not that local and state issues are of no concern. That list is long and full of difficult policy problems.
It includes the constitutionally protected use, possession and sale of guns, and how to respond to four mass shootings in Texas in less than two years — in Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso and Odessa.
It includes access to health care, an issue that helped propel some of the Democrats who got better-than-expected results in their 2018 races and one that has a central role in the Democratic presidential primary debates.
And the list includes public education, which became a major issue in 2018, especially in Republican primaries and the general election.
Other issues from previous elections and legislative sessions are still of high importance to some voters, like property taxes, state spending and the state’s enforcement efforts at the Texas-Mexico border. It includes prosaic issues, like getting rid of the long lines at driver’s license facilities, highway expansion and repair, scooters on streets, homeless Texans, marijuana legalization and whether people can buy beer on Sunday mornings. All the things, and more.
But the election conversation at the moment is more likely to pivot around the presidential race and candidates’ relation to it, however near or far they are from Washington, D.C.
Right now, that’s about impeachment.
A year ago, it was about the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.
In between, the Mueller report was at the top of the political charts.
Cutting through that with local issues, no matter how compelling, is difficult. Those will be in the mix — and will decide some races. Unless something changes, however, the driving issues in this election cycle — the ones that motivate voters — will be the ones emanating from the loudest voice in national politics.
If Trump is unpopular, Democrats will be delighted. If he’s popular — and the advantage in presidential races usually belongs to the incumbent — the Republicans will be overjoyed.
Either way, he’s likely to be the subject, and his competition for attention in Texas next year is thin — the top statewide offices won’t be on the ballot, the U.S. Senate race won’t have Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke spurring interest, and every other candidate on the ballot will be struggling to win attention away from the people at the top of the ballot.
Texas candidates could very well end up doing what they’re doing to elbow their way into your attention right now: commenting and opining about the news coming out of Washington, in the world of Donald Trump.
Whatever that happens to be.
Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.
Read related Tribune coverage