LOS ANGELES — California and Texas are at war, and Donald Trump is one of the reasons why.
Trading broadsides on everything from tax and climate policy to a California ban on state-sponsored travel to the Lone Star State, the two poles of American politics have in recent days revived a feud that lay dormant since Texas’ former California-baiting governor, Rick Perry, left the statehouse in 2015.
Its revival is a product of California’s prominent proselytizing as a counterpoint to the Trump agenda — and of a Republican presidency that has forced Texas conservatives to look beyond the White House for a foil.
“Texas is an easy punching bag for liberals. California is an easy punching bag for conservatives,” said Kevin Shuvalov, a Houston-based strategist who served as George W. Bush’s regional political director in 2000.
Placing a telephone call across state lines this week, he sighed, “How are things inside California’s Berlin Wall?”
The renewed animus between the nation’s first- and second-most populous states picked up last week in Texas, when state Attorney General Ken Paxton lit into California’s insurance commissioner for requiring insurance companies to disclose investments in fossil fuels.
Two days later, Paxton’s counterpart in California added Texas and three other states to its list of places to which California prohibits state-sponsored travel. Lawmakers in Austin floated the possibility of retaliating with a ban of their own, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met California with a sneer.
"California may be able to stop their state employees,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in an email. “But they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas."
The antipathy between California and Texas would have been unrecognizable for much of the last century, when Texas sent Lyndon Johnson to the White House and Republicans remained a force in California. But Texas has not gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976, while California long ago shed its strain of Sun Belt conservatism and careened toward the left.
Now each state is its party’s bulwark, the largest source of electoral votes for either Hillary Clinton or Trump last year. They stand at opposite ends of the ideological landscape: One that is progressive, agnostic and committed to expanding its public institutions, and the other that is conservative, God-fearing and resentful of the reach of government.
“I certainly know why politicians like to talk up the rivalry,” said Chuck DeVore, a former California lawmaker who now lives in Texas and works at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “You’ve got the two biggest states where one out of every five Americans lives. And then, they have these diametrically opposed visions of governing.”
DeVore, a Republican, recalls giving floor speeches in the California Assembly in the 2000s heralding Texas’ more conservative tax policies. But it was Perry’s knack for publicity that sent the rivalry to new heights. Sweeping into California for well-publicized meetings with business executives, Perry in 2013 aired ads on California radio stations criticizing the state’s business climate and encouraging companies to flee to Texas.
At the time, California Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed the advertising campaign as “barely a fart.” But the feud has found fresh air in Paxton’s entanglement with California’s insurance commissioner and in the uproar surrounding California’s ban on state-sponsored travel to the Lone Star State.
“The thing that has probably made it a little more acute is that … they no longer have Obama to kick around,” said Dave Jones, the California insurance commissioner. “So they’ve decided for the benefit of their home town audiences to send some salvos toward California.”
Jones, a Democrat who is running for state attorney general, called Paxton’s threat of litigation over his fossil fuel disclosure policy “ludicrous,” saying it smacked of “political theater at its worst.”
But Paxton was only getting started. Three days after assailing Jones, amid his office’s standard raft of statements on legal matters, Paxton issued a gleeful assessment of a Texas Association of Realtors report finding 65,546 Californians moved to Texas in 2015, compared to 41,713 Texans who moved to California.
“The data in this report came as no surprise to Texans, especially those who have transplanted from California,” Paxton said. “I talk to people almost every day who made the trek from California to Texas, and without fail, they tell me their move is due to either greater job opportunities, much lower-priced housing, an escape from a left-coast political climate, or just a better quality of culture and life.”
For Republicans, the sentiment rang true. Even in California, Texas so fully represents a conservative Shangri-La that Paul Chabot, a former Republican congressional candidate, drew widespread attention this year when he opened “Conservative Move,” a service to help conservatives escape liberal enclaves and relocate, as he did, to Texas.
The movement of residents between California and Texas has become a point of fascination in both states, as have other economic indicators. Analyzing U.S. Census Bureau Data earlier this year, the Sacramento Bee wrote, “California exports its poor to Texas, other states, while wealthier people move in.” The Houston Chronicle, noting California’s higher wages, lower unemployment and faster economic growth, this month carried the headline, “In the Texas vs. California rivalry, California is winning.”
“It’s a mismatch, because we attract people with graduate degrees who want to work with Nobel Prize winners and invent the future,” former California Gov. Gray Davis said. “We’re losing the working class jobs, which I regret, but what we’re gaining are people with doctorate degrees, people who want to be doctors, people who want to work in coding, Silicon Valley, any kind of technological or creative industries. So we’re getting the better of the deal.”
Davis characterized the red-state, blue-state rivalry as a one-sided affair, saying, “I think most of the sniping comes from Texas.”
“When you’re No. 1, it doesn’t do you a lot of good to pick on No. 2,” he said. “When you’re No. 2, like Avis, you’ve got to try harder.”
Yet the row between Texas and California rests not only on economic competition, which dates to the postwar economic boom, but to cultural differences, too. And on the values front, California has become an aggressor.
Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra moved to prohibit state-sponsored travel to Texas and three other states for policies he said are discriminatory — in Texas’ case for a new law allowing adoption agencies to deny services to people who are gay or transgender.
California Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Democrat who was born in Dallas, said, “There comes a time when you have to take a stand on issues.”
While praising his native state for its country music and barbecue, Berman said, “I think it’s outweighed by anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant policies put forth by their state legislature.”
It is unclear what response, if any, will be taken to the travel ban by Texas lawmakers and their governor, who has warned before of efforts to “California-ize” Texas.
Dustin Burrows, a Texas state representative who suggested a reciprocal prohibition on state-funded travel to California, said, “Now that they have taken the proverbial first shot across the bow, it’s Texas’ turn to decide how they want to look at it.”
“We’re not going to ever let California decide our culture or public policy,” Burrows said. “I couldn’t imagine the implications if we opened that door.”
But Shuvalov, the Republican strategist in Houston, said a détente may be in order following a travel restriction that he said goes “a bit far.”
“It’s an escalation that we probably should step back from and not, as united states, you know, start attacking each other economically,” he said.
He added, “I’d be embarrassed if our governor did it.”