Why Would Texas Fight to Secede When They've Already Won the War? | Opinion

At their Houston convention Texas Republicans created a truly wild new platform stuffed with 275 pieces of hallucinatory scheming that recommended, among other things, abolishing the direct election of U.S. senators, and completely banning abortion, the latter of which now goes from fantasy to fact after the Supreme Court's insane decision to reverse Roe v. Wade on Friday.

Another eye-popping plank calls on the state legislature to hold a referendum in 2023 on whether Texas should secede from the United States.

It might be the only thing in the whole sordid, 40-page statement of authoritarian intent that Democrats like. After all, without Texas' 40 electoral votes, double-digit House of Representatives delegation edge and two GOP senators, the national Republican Party would immediately lose any chance at a majority. So, if Texas wants to leave and take the political fortunes of the increasingly radicalized GOP with it, who on the left would stand in their way?

It's a tempting fantasy, but that's all it is. Texas secession is not only tremendously unlikely, it also would solve nothing — not for Texas Republicans, not for Democrats, and certainly not for the U.S.

Texas Capitol Building
The Texas Capitol on May 14, 2022. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

The Texas that the GOP's new platform imagines would be a facade democracy, one that privileges cars, guns, and the interests of straight men over virtually any other value. Thousands of the state's most influential Republicans just endorsed creating a bizarre, mini-electoral college in lieu of directly electing statewide officials in Texas, granting the state the right to "ignore" any federal law that it doesn't like and dispensing with the Voting Rights Act altogether. Should people on the left really fantasize about the possibility of abandoning millions of their fellow Democrats to people who think Texas Sen. John Cornyn is too liberal on guns?

Worse, making Texas an independent state would risk a swift descent into war and madness.

Political scientists who study secession and other territorial divisions have found that it often transforms intrastate disputes into international ones. British leaders, for example, thought they could bring peace to the Indian subcontinent by dividing it into Hindu and Muslim-majority countries. Instead, India and Pakistan immediately became bitter enemies, have fought multiple wars and now pose the greatest risk of a nuclear war in the world. Thirty years after Yugoslavia collapsed into multiple warring countries, the underlying conflict grinds on. Sorting human beings into the "correct" country turns out to be harder than hardcore nationalists imagine.

And you don't have to think too hard to come up with the ways that a freshly independent Texas, hopped up on the fumes of its successful nationalist movement, might turn violently against its neighbors. There would be water-sharing problems with New Mexico and Oklahoma, oil and natural gas pipeline conflicts and great potential for fights over ocean resource management and immigration with Mexico, which would suddenly share almost two-thirds of its northern border with a country run by heavily armed Christianist fanatics.

If Texas were allowed to walk away, it would almost certainly trigger a broader exodus. The single-party regimes of the Deep South and Great Plains states would suddenly find themselves badly outnumbered and would seek to join Texas or create their own alternative. At that point we would find ourselves deep into the potentially catastrophic scenario outlined in Omar El Akkad's 2017 dystopian novel American War, which imagined a post-apocalyptic wasteland created by a nuclear war between the United States and southern secessionists who refused to give up their addiction to gas and oil. Do you really think relations between a blue and red America, both in possession of their own armies and nuclear weapons would be peaceful?

This is to say nothing of the humdrum logistical nightmares that would immediately beset policymakers in both Austin and Washington — the division of federal assets, the disposition of military bases, the apportioning of debt, the creation of a new currency, the erection of new, undoubtedly heavily militarized borders, and more. Ask the British how much fun it has been simply navigating an exit from the European Union. Then quintuple the pain.

And things wouldn't be great in Blue America either. The idea that the increasingly violent red-blue dispute could be solved by moving borders would quickly be revealed as a farce, as Republicans in Southern Illinois, Northwestern Michigan, Northern California and elsewhere seek to join their red state brethren. A thousand irredentist movements would be launched. And it isn't hard to imagine an independent Texas or a red superstate sponsoring right-wing terrorist and insurgent groups in what remains of the United States.

Thankfully, even if this referendum is held and succeeds, it is not likely that the Supreme Court would recognize it. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Court ruled that "union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States." Texas Republicans just spent a generation helping capture the Supreme Court for the far right and will surely realize that they have or will soon get basically everything they want anyway — no abortions with no exceptions, Wild West gun laws, racist voting restrictions, hopelessly gerrymandered legislatures and more, without firing a shot.

After all, why settle for an independent theocratic petrostate in Texas when they are imposing their dark vision on the whole country?

David Faris is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. His writing has appeared in The Week, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Washington Monthly and more. You can find him on Twitter @davidmfaris.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.