Audio-Gate: How does Texas’ most incredible political story of the year end?


Political thriller is an understatement. Republicans are going after Republicans hardcore.

In June, Michael Quinn Sullivan, the extreme conservative leader of an uber wealthy right-wing advocacy organization Empower Texans, and the powerful first-term Republican Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen held a private meeting. It turns out Sullivan secretly recorded the meeting and the contents, allegedly, are explosively harmful for the Republican Party. 

Sullivan is accusing the speaker of offering a quid pro quo: Sullivan would receive Texas House of Representatives media credentials in exchange for politically taking out 10 conservatives in the House who are up for election in 2020.  Bonnen has denied the allegations.

Who knows what was really said during the meeting. That’s why the recordings need to be released, as the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus said in a statement on Friday. “House Democrats agree with the Speaker and others that the recording should be released in its entirety,” said Rep. Chris Turner. “Complete transparency is paramount; allowing select political insiders to hear it in private isn’t going to cut it.”

The collective clam up, mouths- shut strategy won’t, in the end, prevail. Some might think it will go away if they just hunker down and wait out the storm. That’s not how this works anymore. And there’s too much on the line for the Republican Party of Texas to keep things hidden. Either Sullivan releases the secret audio, unedited, or Bonnen (or anyone else in the room) cops to what was said. So: let’s not drag this out any longer. 

The bigger picture

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott told a Republican luncheon, “This is going to be the most challenging election we have faced in Texas since last century.” Sen. Ted Cruz told the Washington Post in an article published on the same day, “The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously.” 

They’re both right:

  • Trump is doing poorly in Texas based on four polls, his team’s travel schedule, and where his campaign is putting their digital ad dollars;
  • Sen. John Cornyn is vulnerable for the first time in 12 years. His team is already running TV ads and paying for robocalls 15 months before the election;
  • Three GOP congressmen from Texas are retiring;
  • The GOP has started a voter registration super PAC that raised $10 million in two and a half months. The money haul is impressive, but since when do Republicans care about registering voters? 

The Sullivan-Bonnen drama may end up further harming the GOP’s political chances at the ballot box next year, depending on what was said during the meeting. But as we await the resolution to audio-gate, Empower Texans has, for the moment, been emboldened, probably loving all of the press attention, while still staying true to their anti-media brand. 

“The most fun part of all of this whole recording situation is watching the venom and vitriol the dying fake news media slings at us to protect their crony connections to the halls of power,” wrote Cary Cheshire, an Empower employee, on Twitter. “The enemies of the people are in their death throes.”

Photo: Eric Gay/AP

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