News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

They're conservatives and even lifelong Republicans — is there a place for them in the Texas GOP?

Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan signs bills in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol on the last day of the legislative session in Austin, Texas, Monday, May 29, 2023.
Eric Gay
Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan signs bills in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol. Phelan, a conservative Republican, has faced backlash from members of his own party for the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

J. Adams describes herself as a commonsense conservative.

Adams said she supports the Second Amendment, family values and the constitution. But she has faced backlash from the far-right for also supporting compromise and respecting different opinions.

“The far right, they don't believe in that,” Adams said. “It’s their way or nobody's way.”

The Texas Republican Party has a strong grip on power at every level of elected office in Texas. But it’s still dealing with internal turmoil. Some lifelong Republicans like Adams say the party has become too extreme for them, but they’re still conservatives — and they may even still vote for Republicans despite their misgivings.

Adams said she has been called a RINO for not falling in line with the far-right. It’s an acronym for Republican in Name Only, not to be confused with the animal with a pointy horn seen at the zoo. The political term RINO has been around for decades.

Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said RINO once referred to Republicans who weren’t conservative enough. But he said the meaning has changed.

“The way that many people use it now is as an accusation of disloyalty,” Wilson said.

Many current Texas House members who’ve long identified as conservatives have been called RINOs. That includes Jeff Leach, who co-authored the bill that became the state’s constitutional carry law. Leach has faced backlash for voting to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Wilson said allegiance to certain Republican politicians — like Paxton or President Donald Trump — has become more important to the party than loyalty to policy or ideology.

Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University, said Republicans who don’t feel loyal those figures but still have conservative values feel the tension.

“It makes for people feeling uncomfortable in their political party home,” Riddlesperger said.

Jenifer Sarver, a communications consultant in Austin, said she left the Republican Party because it got too divisive. She worked in President George Bush’s administration as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sarver also ran for Congress in 2018, coming in fifth in the Republican primary for the seat U.S. Representative Chip Roy now holds.

Sarver said she couldn’t vote for Trump because of how he talks about women. She also said his rhetoric about People of Color and LGBTQ+ people pushes young people away.

“They do not see a welcome sign in the Republican Party, and so if you do not see a welcome sign and you don't see room for yourself there, you’re going to go find an alternative,” Sarver said.

Adams, who is Asian American, said she felt out of place when she associated with the far-right crowd and that their statements about immigration was alarming. Her parents immigrated legally from Cambodia before she was born.

“They want to shoot people at the border,” Adams said. “You don’t shoot a human being. Yeah, I think the border needs to be secured, but as Christians, we don’t shoot people.”

Both Adams and Sarver say the far-right’s point of view doesn’t align with the average Republican voter.

But those voters aren’t the ones showing up to the polls during the primaries. Wilson said it’s usually people who have more radical views — left or right — that participate in primary elections. He said the candidates they choose are more likely to align with attitudes only a fraction of the party shares.

“It can be dangerous for the party because it can alienate more centrist voters,” Wilson said. “It can make it harder to get to that 50% plus one that you need to actually win elections.”

He said that leads to people voting against a candidate they hate rather than for a candidate they like.

Sarver said people are losing hope because of the lack of good options, and the best way to get better candidates on the ballot in the general election is for more people to participate in the primaries. She's involved with March Matters, a nonpartisan organization that aims to increase voter turnout in the primaries.

“I would encourage them to vote,” Sarver said. “That is something every single one of us can do.”

There’s a chance the far-right’s grip on the Republican party could loosen with more ballots cast, giving conservatives like Sarver and Adams their political home back.

Texans can vote early in the primary elections until March 1. Election day is March 5.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at

Caroline Love is a Report For AmericaCorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.


Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.