Elections Time Machine: Meet Pappy O’Daniel, the Donald Trump of Texas—from 1938

[ Originally published on this site as post ]

Hop in our time machine and join Daily Kos Elections as we revisit key elections from yesteryear and imagine what we might have written about those races at the time—without any benefit of hindsight. This piece originally ran Jan. 8, 2016.

Get ready to laugh, but it’s really happening! A little while ago, radio celebrity W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel asked his listeners if he should seek the Democratic nomination for governor, which is of course the only nomination that matters in Texas. It certainly sounded like a jape, but it turned out Pappy wasn’t joking, since he just announced that he’s going to run for office. Texans will need no introduction to O’Daniel, who hosts the most popular radio show in state history, created the Hillbilly Boys band, and runs the Hillbilly Flour company. But virtually no one takes the idea of a Gov. “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” O’Daniel seriously.

To begin with, while O’Daniel loves to extol the virtues of Texas on his show, there’s the small fact that O’Daniel only moved to the Lone Star State a decade ago. In fact, the Ohio-born O’Daniel isn’t a Southerner at all: His father was a Union veteran! Not only are Pappy’s Southern bona fides very much in doubt, he’s never engaged in politics, and he hasn’t even paid his poll tax, so he can’t even vote for himself.

O’Daniel might have a ton of name recognition, but he isn’t doing anything to convince us he’s anything more than a stunt candidate now that he’s actually in the race. He and the Hillbilly Boys have begun campaigning across the state in a red circus wagon, while O’Daniel proclaims that his only campaign platform is the Ten Commandments.

Yes, Pappy’s been attracting huge crowds, but don’t read too much into that. In all likelihood, rural Texans are showing up for a chance to see a performance by the Hillbilly Boys, whose likenesses on sacks of Hillbilly Flour moms have been cutting out and sewing into dolls for their kids for years. (In fact, this may all just be scheme to promote the band—and the flour.) And even those who are coming out for O’Daniel himself probably just want to see the celebrity politician in person. They’ll focus on the more serious candidates as we get closer to Election Day.

Right now, the two most notable contenders for the Democratic nod are Railroad Commission chairman Ernest Thompson, a former mayor of Armarillo, and Attorney General William McCraw—both of whom, unlike O’Daniel, can actually win. But Pappy at least is good for some entertainment, and those Hillbilly Boys do sing a catchy tune.

For all of our posts in the Daily Kos Elections Time Machine series, click here.