February 19, 2019
GOP Anger Cover Up
No Shortage of Trump Lovers in Texas Oil Patch and Circles on the Hard Right
View Primary Endorsement as Empty Show of Gratitude to Farm Bureau Hosts
President Donald Trump has upset quite a few West Texas Republicans who've been loyal fans with an endorsement in an open congressional race that's been a territorial war with the oil industry, agriculture and tea party conservatives all in separate corners.
Six of 11 Republicans who are competing in the March 3 primary election in Congressional District 11 have teamed up in a coordinated effort that's highly delicate and extremely unusual with an effort aimed at defusing the momentum that GOP hopeful August Pfluger has been riding since a nod of approval from Trump in a tweet last week.
But the candidates who are taking aim at Pfluger collectively are tip-toeing into dangerous waters while trying as hard as possible not offend the president at the same time they're questioning the sincerity of the potentially-game changing endorsement that he dropped from out of the blue.
Republican contender Wesley Virdell of Brady put on a clinic in the art of sugar-coating when he sought to explain the quandary that the CD 11 candidates have been facing since the president passively spurned them in a way that's given a rival a massive new advantage.
"Unfortunately we all like Trump, but we're not sure about the metrics of this tweet," Virdell said when a handful of CD 11 aspirants banded Tuesday for a group shot that they fired at Pfluger at a press conference in Midland.
As a candidate who hasn't raised any money for the race, Virdell doesn't have much to lose by saying something that isn't glowing admiration about a president with a penchant for temper and punishing those who challenge his authority or reasoning.
But Trump wasn't supposed to be the target at the media event that the GOP candidates staged for the purpose of exposing Pfluger's support from a partisan super PAC that Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have bankrolled. The group With Honor Action that was established to help military veteran make the jump to politics has spent nearly a quarter-million dollars on advertising on Pfluger's behalf as a former combat pilot in the Air Force.
The candidates who are trying to make it look like they're not mad at Trump might actually have a legitimate beef to some degree with the way he apparently went about picking sides in CD 11. The Pfluger endorsement appeared to be a product of a private meeting that Trump had last month with American Farm Bureau officials in Austin where he spoke at the group's convention.
Trump apparently had little interest in the CD 11 battle in a heavily-Republican district that won't be in play in the general election. But the Farm Bureau leaders made a pitch for Pfluger to the president - and speculation has sizzled across the vast expanse of CD 11 on the possibility that Trump eagerly agreed to serve up the endorsement that they'd requested as a favor to his hosts.
There have been no so signs that Trump had been aware that the energy producers in the western end of the district had been touting former Midland City Council member J. Ross Lacy as their consensus choice in the race to replace outgoing Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway. Forty percent of the district's residents live in the Midland-Odessa area.
But Pfluger is based in San Angelo - the district's third largest city where big ranchers and others in the agriculture business wield substantial political sway.
Conservatives who've worshipped Trump are biting tongues in unison now as a consequence of the cold shoulder that their designated CD 11 candidate Jamie Berryhill of Andrews effectively received from the president when he threw his muscle behind Pfluger instead.
Berryhill has been hoping that grassroots support within the original Trump base would help offset the superior war chests that Pfluger, Lacy and Midland Republicans Brandon Batch and J.D. Faircloth have had. But Berryhill could be the odd man out in a runoff that's all but guaranteed in CD 31 where Pfluger appears to have the best odds now thanks to the president.
The overtime duel in CD 31 could be an all-establishment affair as a result.
Mike Hailey's column appears on a regular basis in Capitol Inside