Skip to main content

Trump's Hostile Takeover of Republican Party: Bad News for Indians

Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you don’t have time to run your political party or your government, that will not stop them from claiming they represent you when they do stuff that makes you cringe or picks your pocket.

I have no patience for Indians who won’t attend to U.S. government because they value their tribal citizenship more. Leaving aside that most of those folks won’t attend to tribal government, either, you can’t keep any sovereign from messing with you by ignoring it.

The U.S. has a system of dual sovereigns, state and federal, and tribal citizenship makes a third. Often, the three sovereigns don’t conflict, but when they do, you don’t help your favorite by forsaking your duty to heave and tug on the others.

As I write, a businessman is trying to consummate a hostile takeover of a major political party. The odds favor his success. Such things happen on a local level all the time, and some people who were horrified that I became a judge will always be convinced I was elected by the negligence of those better suited to run things.

I was a Democrat then, and there came a time when the Republican Party got a new County Chair who wanted to rouse his troops. This was no small task in Travis County, Texas, where the People’s Republic of Austin dominates the electorate.

He thought to start with the judges, since nobody attends to those down ballot races, and I was first in the crosshairs because he took me to be farther left than the others and vulnerable because of my arrest record---all of which involved political activity.

I had gotten wind of this and lined up a steering committee that was mostly lawyers. When I first ran, my supporters were mostly personal friends from the Civil Rights Movement who were supporting me because I asked them. It became clear in time that most of them would have helped me no matter what I ran for, but I could not get them very interested in other judge races.

So the new Republican chair called up the chair of the Travis County Ronald Reagan campaign and asked him to run against me. Greg had to say that would be a betrayal because he was on my steering committee. Shocked, the new GOP chair asked why?

“Because I can count on him for a fair trial.”

He never did gin me up an opponent.

There are lots of tricks to running a down ballot, low interest race. You do your polling by piggybacking a couple of questions on somebody else’s poll. You make do with second hand walk lists and call lists. You do your own media booking and, in my case, your own media.

There’s a luck factor in something as simple as your name. My own name is worth about 15 points, which is to say I developed polling data that showed 15 percent of voters who never heard of me would vote for “Steve Russell.” My birth certificate says “Stephen,” which does not work as well. I never polled on my birth name, Teehee, but I know it could not match Russell. The name business was luck, not calculation.

Of even less general interest than down ballot races are party races, notably precinct chairs and county chairs. A combination of law information voters and a good political name resulted in the Democratic Party of Williamson County, Texas, electing a Republican chair. He was damned inconvenient.

The Republican Party of Travis County has just elected a new chair who is supporting Donald Trump for president and, like Trump, his election is being greeted as a hostile takeover. No, it’s not just because he’s Tea Party.

Newly elected (by over ten points) chairman Robert Morrow spent the night of the election playing with the Twitter machine. Some greatest hits:

Morrow referred to former Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry as “a rampaging bisexual adulterer.”

He said that the Bush family “are criminals and should be in lockdown in a federal prison.” He believes that the CIA shot President Kennedy on the orders of LBJ.

A bipartisan critic, Morrow refers to Hillary Clinton as “an angry bull dyke.”

His insult repertoire leans heavily on homophobia. He says the presidential candidate then favored by the GOP establishment, Marco Rubio, is “very likely a gayman who got married.” He refers to the Republican National Committee as a “gay foam party.”

Upon being informed that the vice chair and other members of the executive committee were “treating this as a coup and a hostile takeover” and intended to remove him if they can figure out how, Morrow responded to the Texas Tribune, “They can go fuck themselves.”

I was thinking they already did that when they didn’t pay attention to the election. He did beat an incumbent who had not angered anybody.

Morrow put this in the biography field of his Twitter account: “Google Jeb Bush Murder of CIA Drug Smuggler Barry Seal 1986 and you will learn a lot about Jeb Bush & Oliver North.”

This is great comic relief for those of us on the outside. Party office holders can harm the party, but they do not usually have a lot of opportunity to mess with the general public. This guy’s election is only funny because the harm he can do is so limited.

Now, think about the hostile takeover of the national Republican Party by Donald Trump, about whom the best you can say is that what he will do as POTUS is a mystery. We do know, however, that the POTUS has a great deal of power,

Trump, in his capacity as casino mogul, had plenty of fights with Indians over casino turf. It’s a fair assumption that President Trump will be no friend of Indians generally and tribal sovereignty particularly.

While this is true of elections generally, this election in 2016 has telegraphed specific danger signals. Trump may be clownish at times, but we ignore this clown at our peril.

In part II, I do my best to predict the policies of the Trump Administration, should there be one. It is not possible to predict events—just ask Barack Obama or George W. Bush or anyone who has been there. It is possible to make educated guesses what the disposition of forces will be before the first shot is fired. When events do what they always do, the fog of war rolls in, and you find out who can walk and chew gum simultaneously.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.