AUSTIN — When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized Land Commissioner George P. Bush over issues surrounding Alamo renovation project, it sounded a little like a cannon firing a warning shot. Or at least a political warning shot.
Patrick and Bush are both in their second term in office. Both are Republican. So the question becomes, are they on a collision course that won’t end until the GOP primary in 2022?
The National Review, widely read by conservatives across the country, speculated in October that the 43-year-old Bush was interested in running for higher office. Bush’s political aide, J.R. Hernandez told the magazine at the time and confirmed later to the USA Today Network that indeed several Republican “activists and donors” and donors are pushing him to seek a promotion.
While there are no plans to challenge Patrick, or Gov. Greg Abbott for that matter, in the 2022 primary, Bush “would absolutely consider” seeking higher office if one should open up.
Patrick, in the news release his office issued Wednesday afternoon, seemed to be saying “look for an office other than mine.”
It’s not surprising the lieutenant governor would use the specter of the Alamo to send a message to the grandson of one president and the nephew of another. Bush’s General Land Office is spearheading a $450 million renovation of the revered shrine. And some conservative-leaning Alamo aficionados have not been shy about expressing their disapproval of some of the planned changes.
Patrick, who is 69 and plans to seek a third term, sympathized with those who oppose moving the 60-foot Alamo Cenotaph, or empty tomb, from its present location. And chided Bush for calling some renovation critics “racist” after they wrongly suggested Bush, whose mother is a naturalized American citizen from Mexico, plans to erect a statue of Santa Anna at the Alamo.
Allen Blakemore, Patrick’s political adviser, humorously brushed aside rumblings of a Bush-Patrick rivalry.
“I can state unequivocally that the lieutenant governor is not running for land commission,” Blakemore said.
But he quickly turned more serious.
“I would say that the idea of a Republican primary against Dan Patrick is foolhardy at best,” Blackmore said. “He is the face of the conservative Republican grassroots movement in Texas.”
Blakemore makes a good point. Since Patrick arrived in Austin as a state senator in 2007, he’s been a proponent of conservative causes from limiting abortion rights to rolling back the rate of property tax increases to increasing the state’s response to unauthorized immigration. And he’s tight as tight can be with President Donald Trump.
Bush has some conservative bonafides of his own. During the 2016 presidential cycle, Bush broke with his extended family by campaigning for Trump. During the primaries, Trump called Bush’s father, the former Florida governor and then-candidate for president, “low-energy Jeb.”
Bush’s grandfather and namesake, the late former President George H.W. Bush and a Texas Republican when Texas Republicans were almost as rare as albino armadillos, said publicly that he had voted for Clinton. The elder Bush dismissed Trump as a “blowhard.”
To be fair, any talk of 2022 when the 2020 election cycle has barely started, is speculative at best. But nearly all of the Republican statewide elected officials are in their second term. And that’s typically when upwardly mobile political animals start looking for openings ripe for easy picking.
That means those not looking to move up must make sure the ground they’re hoping to hold is well defended.
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.