Political parties play a number of critical functions and provide unrivaled mechanisms for political organization and representation. Parties are frequently criticized for either fostering partisanship and providing a forum for ideologues or, conversely, for lacking coherent vision. These criticisms both ring true, but in isolation provide only a partial understanding of the roles and evolution of the Texas party system.
The struggle between moderates and more ideologically driven members provides part of the dynamism that helps parties evolve over time and maintain their central role in the state's political system. Whatever the criticisms leveled at them, political parties provide a critical mechanism for citizens of varying interests and means to associate with others, to pool their resources and to attempt to influence institutions at all levels of government. Throughout the history of the Lone Star State, diverse interests (and coalitions of interests) have used political parties as vehicles for participating in politics and influencing government.
The pattern of successive party systems in Texas closely resembles that seen in other states of the old Confederacy, except with a healthy dollop of uniquely Texas flavoring. A Democratic Party long ruled by moderates and conservatives succeeded in stunting what seemed like the natural growth of a successful Republican Party until the 1990s. Since then, various forces have contributed to the growth of the Republicans, and eventually, to a remixing of the core membership of each party.
Most recently, the state has seen the development of a dominant Republican Party that doesn't (yet) hold quite the stranglehold the Democrats enjoyed through most of the twentieth century. The Republican Party has certainly benefited from the defection of former Democrats, the influx of Republicans and independents from out of state, and organizational difficulties in the Democratic Party. As a result, Republican officeholders dominate state government, and Democrats find themselves reduced, for the present, to the status of an embattled minority party seeking to reestablish themselves among their voting and financial constituencies.
Is this newfound Republican dominance just the beginning of a new durable party system, or are we in a state of transition in which the terms of political competition are still in flux? If it is a new party system, just how durable will it be? At the moment, it seems that Republican dominance of state government will continue for a number of years; however, the pace of social and economic change in the state has accelerated considerably from the time when moderate and conservative Democrats could count on a stable base of support. Consequently, Republican dominance is unlikely to have the lifespan of the century-long Democratic hegemony.