Abbott’s play for national audience draws questions about higher-office plans

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: February 2, 2016

AUSTIN — On the first anniversary of his residence in the Texas Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Greg Abbott was in Israel, more than 7,000 miles from his home state. He was meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and once again railing against President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

The trip, Abbott’s third international voyage in recent months, followed quickly on the heels of his headline-making plan to amend the U.S. Constitution and take back states’ rights, which he revealed earlier this month.

As many Texas governors before him have done, Abbott is placing himself squarely in the middle of national and international politics. The high-profile moves have many in the political sector wondering whether the newly minted governor is angling — as his recent predecessors have — for a run at the White House or another prominent national position.

Washington D.C. news outlet The Hill fueled those gossip flames on Tuesday, when it endorsed the idea of Abbott as GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s vice presidential choice.

“Trump – Abbott, that’s a ticket to make America great again and put the fear of God in America’s enemies, foreign and domestic!” writer Paul Nagy said in the blog post.

Abbott says he’s happy leading the “greatest state in the United States,” and experts say it’s too early to tell whether the governor may be aiming for national office. But Abbott’s moves do burnish his conservative bona fides during a presidential primary where his endorsement could make a difference.

“I think we shouldn’t be surprised that the governor of one of the largest, most populous states is inserting himself in the national conversation,” said Jim Henson, a University of Texas at Austin political scientist.

Even as attorney general, Abbott had a penchant for making a national scene with lawsuits challenging federal regulations that he said went too far and hurt the Texas economy. He sued the Obama administration over issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act to clean air regulations.

“I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home,” Abbott famously said as attorney general.

Abbott’s distrust and disdain for the federal government continued during his first year as governor. He made national headlines last spring for ordering Texas National Guard troops to keep an eye on Jade Helm 15, a U.S. military training operation. READ MORE

Matthew Wilson, Political Science, What are the Chances it Won’t Be Hillary?


Originally Posted: February 2, 2016

IOWA (WBAP/KLIF NEWS) – Voters are making their voices heard in the Democratic Presidential Primary.

SMU Political Science Professor, Matthew Wilson, says the race isn’t looking very good for Hillary Clinton, after the Iowa caucuses.

“The fact that she was neck and neck here is a bit of a blow to her campaign. She’s still highly likely to be the Democratic nominee, but I think the Sanders people feel kind of excited about where they finished.”

He adds on the GOP side, it’s no longer just a two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but a three-man race with Marco Rubio finishing so strong in Iowa. READ MORE

Iowa caucuses will determine long or short primary season

SMU News

Originally Posted: February 1, 2016

The following is an excerpt from an SMU news release:

DALLAS (SMU) – Not unlike expectations that a groundhog seeing its shadow can predict a long winter or early spring, the results of the Iowa caucuses can determine whether Americans are in for a long or short primary season. SMU experts are ready to discuss who has the most at stake, what factors could determine who wins Iowa, and what impact the results will have on the Republican and Democrat presidential races at large.

For Sanders, Iowa a Must-Win; For Republicans, A Chance to Coalesce

Matthew Wilson

There’s no doubting stakes are high for candidates in both parties in the Iowa caucus, but as Wilson sees it, they’re highest for Bernie Sanders supporters and anyone-but-Trump Republicans.

“If Sanders is able to win Iowa, then he could become a bigger movement, but if he does not win Iowa, then the expected New Hampshire win starts to look like more of a home-field anomaly and the air starts to come out of his balloon,” Wilson said. “If he wants to be more than a novelty, Iowa is a big night for him.”

The Republican race took an unexpected turn when Donald Trump’s biggest challenger turned out to be Ted Cruz, a politician Wilson says is reviled by many of his Republican colleagues. Rivals attacked Cruz persistently at Thursday’s debate, potentially turning Monday’s question from “who wins Iowa” to “who finishes second?”

“If Marco Rubio moves past Cruz to second place, that becomes a big story,” Wilson says. “That would show some coalescing of the conventional republican establishment behind one candidate.”

If the unexpected happens and Trump loses Iowa, Wilson says it could deal a tremendous blow to the real estate mogul, whose campaign has been all about, “An aura of momentum, confidence and impending victory.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science.


Dedman College professors weigh in on Trump and the final GOP debate

SMU News

Originally Posted: January 28, 2016

Below is an excerpt from an SMU news release:
Trump’s biggest gamble yet? 
GOP frontrunner backs out of final debate before Iowa, N.H. votes

SMU experts are available for interview on all things debatable in connection with tonight’s prime time matchup GOP contest, the final debate before Republicans cast their votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.





Despite a highly publicized flubbing of a Bible verse at Liberty University on Jan. 18. Trump continues to dominate the polls in Iowa, where evangelical voters are notorious for holding sway, leaving many experts – and rivals – flummoxed that such a traditionally strong voting block has been fractured by the real estate mogul’s camp.

“Anyone who looks at the situation can see Trump is not a profoundly religious person,” Wilson says. “It’s surprising how many evangelical voters seem not to care about that very much when there are committed Christians in the field.”

At one point, Cruz appeared most ready to turn the evangelical vote into a caucus victory, but his one-time lead has evaporated under a barrage of attacks from Trump.

“Part of the reason (Trump’s) been able to reach evangelical voters is a lot of them, when push comes to shove, care more about other issues than religious concerns,” Wilson says. “They care more about immigration positions or anti-terror positions. Not all evangelicals swing that way, but enough for Trump to do OK despite his religious unorthodoxies.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science

    • Can Discuss:

religion and politics
political psychology
voting behavior of religious voters
public opinion and politics






The once-cordial relationship between Cruz and Trump went out the window when Cruz threatened Trump’s lead in Iowa this month, but Engel says the recent animosity between the two doesn’t mean the rivals can’t be friends again in the future.

“We should remember one of the most vicious and heated Republican primaries occurred in 1980 when the two finalists were Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush,” Engel says. “Bush spent a lot of time debunking Regan’s views and even came up with the term, ‘voodoo economics,’ which became the go-to insult for Reaganomics. Despite that, they were able to reconcile at the convention and Bush even served as Reagan’s vice president.”

“The Trump-Cruz rivalry will get a lot uglier before it gets better, but no matter what we see in terms of them tearing each other down for the primary, they could still work together again down the road,” Engel adds.

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History

          • Can Discuss:

comparison’s to past presidential races
foreign policy
presidential rhetoric


Tower Center selects nine SMU scholars to join global policymaking immersion program

SMU News

Originally Posted: January 26, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – Nine SMU sophomores pursuing minors in public policy and international affairs have been selected as 2016 Highland Capital Management (HCM) Tower Scholars for the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies.

After a competitive process, Tower Scholars are chosen for their knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs, national security and defense and international political economy. They will develop mentor relationships with public policy practitioners, work with clients on actual cases and have access to global and national leaders, local business leaders and Tower Center board members. Senior-year directed-research projects along with Dallas-based placements provide real-world policy experience, and opportunities for relevant study-abroad options exist. READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science, State conservatives reassessing Republican Party

San Antonio Express

Originally Posted: January 26, 2016

GEORGETOWN – In Williamson County, long perceived as the buckle on Texas’ conservative Republican belt, the lunchtime conversation on a recent day was about Donald Trump and why he should be president, instead of Ted Cruz, the well-liked home-state senator.
Cruz and Trump, the New York real estate magnate, are leading a pack of candidates battling for the GOP presidential nomination.

“(Trump’s) an outsider. He’s a sharp businessman. I think he could do the job,” said Butch Owens, 51, a small business owner and self-described “genetic conservative,” as he hiked across the courthouse square. “We need an outsider as president, someone who’s not part of politics. Ted’s close, but Trump’s closer.”

Similar sentiments are not hard to find in surrounding communities, from Taylor, an east-county farming center, to Pflugerville and Round Rock, urbanized bedroom communities near Austin, in a week when Trump garnered the highly-coveted endorsement of conservative GOP icon Sarah Palin.

And while plenty of Cruz campaign signs hint at his support in the county, political observers say Trump has helped trigger another trend: Conservative voters are reassessing just what it means to be a Republican in this presidential election year, a trend that could trickle down to voting in state and local races.

As Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson sees it, those distinctions will play a role in who wins Texas’ Republican primary, a contest where national polls have shown Trump leading Cruz, but where the latter holds an advantage as a Texan and a proven vote-getter with the conservatives and tea party activists who will anchor the GOP turnout. READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Many Texans likely will vote before the March 1 primary

Fort Worth Star Telegram

Originally Posted: January 18, 2016

When the March 1 presidential primary elections finally arrive in Texas, hundreds of thousands of voters — maybe even half of the Texans who plan to turn out — may have already cast their ballots.

During the past three presidential elections alone, more than 2 million voters headed to the polls early in Texas, state records show.

“This is definitely the trend here,” said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County’s elections administrator. “Mid to high 60 percent of people who vote in Tarrant County vote before election day.

“It’s fantastic.”

Texas is one of 37 states, along with the District of Columbia, that lets voters cast ballots early, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Nearly 30 years ago, state lawmakers changed the early voting system that required Texans to provide a “valid excuse” to vote early.

They loosened up the rules to let voters cast early ballots just because they wanted to vote before election day.

“Some people enjoy and celebrate the act of voting,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Other people … vote early. READ MORE

Matthew Wilson, Political Science, on GOP debate: Cruz-Trump tiff will command center stage

The following is an excerpt from SMU News. FULL ARTICLE HERE

Originally Posted: January 14, 2016

State of the Union challenge puts Trump, economy and foreign policy under spotlight at Republican Debate

SMU experts are available for interview on all things debatable in connection with Thursday’s prime time matchup between seven GOP hopefuls:





After months of Trump and Ted Cruz public civility, the gloves have finally come off in the feud between the two to win next month’s Iowa Caucus, says Wilson.

“Ted Cruz has to be rolling his eyes at this birther idiocy,” Wilson says. “Of all the things that could have been brought up as a line of attack, I don’t think he expected this to be Trump’s attack. But maybe he should have – because Trump was a big birther critic of Obama.”

As pivotal as the Cruz-Trump showdown will be for Iowa, a four-way fight between Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush for the New Hampshire primary could have an even greater impact on the shape of the race. A large margin of defeat there could potentially end several candidates’ ambitions.

“There’s a major battle there to see who will emerge as the center-right standard bearer as opposed to the far-right standard bearer, which would be Cruz,” Wilson says. “New Hampshire aggregates more center-right than far-right, but these four guys are dividing that vote, which creates an opening for Trump and, to a lesser extent, Cruz.”

Wilson is an SMU associate professor of Political Science

Can Discuss:

religion and politics
political psychology
voting behavior of religious voters
public opinion and politics

LISTEN: Cal Jillson, Political Science, Texas Remains a Burr Under the Supreme Court’s Saddle

High Plains Public Radio

Originally Posted: December 30, 2015

These days the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a lot from the Lone Star State. USA TODAY reports that nearly all the court’s top cases come from Texas, from abortion and affirmative action to voting rights and immigration.

Not much has changed since Gov. Greg Abbott’s days as attorney general. Back then Abbott bragged: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.” But these days, Texas is more often on the defensive from the high court. Texas has potentially run afoul of federal law in cases involving aggrieved voters, students and abortion providers.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says there is “a deeply held conviction among the political class in Texas that the federal government is overreaching and needs to be systematically checked.”

Other famous historical Texas cases include the 1973 abortion case Roe v. Wade and Van Orden v. Perry, which upheld the placement of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol in 2005. READ MORE