Briefing

Did Texas Republicans endorse secession at their party convention?

Why the proposal should have GOP leaders outside of Texas quaking in their boots

On Saturday, thousands of Texas Republicans approved a new platform at the 2022 party convention in Houston, and it immediately caused a furor. In addition to a number of controversial policy planks, it also called on the state legislature to authorize a referendum on secession from the United States. Here's everything you need to know about the document and what it means:

What is in the Texas GOP's party platform?

There are 275 planks in the platform that delegates voted on over the weekend, but suffice to say it is a remarkably radical document. It advocates for protecting life from "fertilization to natural death," defines homosexuality as "an abnormal lifestyle," marriage as only between "one biological man and one biological woman," and supports eliminating sex education from schools altogether. Texas Republicans are also now on record as supporting the prosecution of teachers at any grade level who discuss sexual orientation, and banning gender affirmation surgery for anyone under 21. It also endorses a complete prohibition on abortion and supports returning prayer and the Ten Commandments to public schools and buildings. It describes any and all restrictions on gun ownership, particularly those being discussed in Congress, as "a violation of the Second Amendment and of our God-given rights."

On the political side, it calls for abolishing the direct election of U.S. Senators, nullifying Supreme Court decisions, ending birthright citizenship, repealing the Voting Rights Act, and holding an Article V convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. It further argues for eliminating the direct election of all statewide officials in Texas, doing so instead with a state version of the Electoral College. The document endorses former President Trump's baseless 2020 election conspiracy by referring to "acting President Biden" and claiming that he was "not legitimately elected." Will Weissert of The Associated Press said that with the platform, the Texas Republican Party "has broken new ground in its push to the far right." Conservative media outlets like Fox News, National Review, and American Greatness, on the other hand, gave the platform scant coverage.

But perhaps its most attention-grabbing line called for the state legislature to authorize a secession referendum. Early in the document, Texas Republicans called for the legislature to pass a law affirming the state's right to secede from the United States. Then in the 224th plank, it asks for a referendum in the 2023 election "to determine whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation." The plank predictably ignited a firestorm, with many on the left half-jokingly hoping that Republicans go through with it. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank endorsed the idea and recommended a "severance package that includes Oklahoma." Others, however, were quick to point out that Texas cannot legally secede from the United States. Are they right?

What does the Constitution say about secession?

Daniel Miller, author of TEXIT: How and Why Texas Will Leave the Union, argues that "there is not a single clause in the Constitution of the United States that forbids Texas, or any State, for that matter, from leaving the Union." Indeed, there is little dispute that the U.S. Constitution neither endorses nor explicitly prohibits the secession of states from the union. But in the aftermath of the Civil War, the issue was considered settled. In the 1869 case Texas v. White, the Supreme Court eliminated all ambiguity, writing that "the union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States."

However, the Supreme Court commands no army. If Texas were to vote to secede next year, it would be up to the U.S. government to choose to intervene, or not. And in a sense, it might actually be advantageous for the Biden administration to let Texas walk away without a fight. After all, without the state's Electoral Votes (now up to 40 after the post-census reapportionment), neither George W. Bush nor Donald Trump would ever have become president. The state currently provides a 12-seat edge to Republicans in the struggle to control the House.

How likely is secession to actually happen?

The centrality of Texas to the GOP's national political fortunes, therefore, is what makes its secession so deeply implausible. There is no world in which Republican leaders outside of Texas would support its unilateral secession — especially Trump, whose bid to reclaim the presidency in 2024 would be dead in the water without the Lone Star State. And if Republicans take one or both chambers of Congress in November's midterm elections, it would likely suck most of the air out of the Texas GOP's inchoate secession plans, just as the 2018 midterms put an end to loose talk of "Calexit" on the West Coast.

A 2021 poll found substantial support for a hypothetical division of the United States into four countries, with 66 percent of Republicans in the South favoring the plan. A July 2021 survey from the University of Virginia found that 52 percent of Trump voters and 41 percent of Biden voters favored a division of the country into red and blue polities. But secessionist movements have a fairly dim track record of winning binding referenda, especially in wealthy democratic countries where it is hard to make the case that anyone is being particularly oppressed. The emotional satisfaction of imagining a velvet divorce ultimately runs headlong into the logistical, financial, and political nightmares that separation would really entail. And regional secession votes that don't have permission from the central government to take place might "succeed" but not change the territorial status quo.

Ultimately, the Texas Republican Party platform is just that — an expression of ideals that aren't binding on anyone, including the state legislature. If its plans are to become reality, it is up to elected Republicans in the state to pursue them, defend them, and put them into practice.

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