Republican Jon Taylor, a political scientist at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, said the infighting could leave the GOP badly fractured in 2008, which is already shaping up to be challenging for the party.
"There could be a lot of blood on the floor and then some come primary time in 2008," Taylor said. "The Republicans could easily lose the state House as a result of this."
He cited in particular the formation of a political fundraising organization called We Won't Forget PAC, designed to punish Craddick loyalists who deserted him. Taylor said the speaker would "guarantee the legacy of being an autocrat or an outright dictator" if he did not halt the efforts to defeat his enemies.
Craddick, elected in 1968, was one of eight Republican lawmakers when he first walked onto the floor of the Texas House. Thirty-four years later, he became the first GOP speaker since 1871. Since then, Republicans have controlled every statewide elected office and both houses of the Legislature.
Craddick presided over some of the most bruising legislative battles in modern times, including a redistricting effort spearheaded by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. But, like DeLay, Craddick paid a political price for the confrontational tactics he used to produce policy victories.
In January he survived a tough speaker's race, in which fellow House members choose a presiding officer. Then, a few days ago, the struggle morphed into a Shakespearian political drama. Betrayed by loyal allies who helped elevate him to his powerful post, Craddick came within a hair of being removed. He beat back the challenge by claiming that the rules gave him "absolute discretion" to ignore his opponents, even if a majority wanted him out.
Mike Hailey, editor of the online newsletter Capitol Inside, said the ploy paid off in the short term by keeping Craddick in the speaker's chair. Further down the road, it could be a different story.Read more
"It could hurt him in the long run," Hailey said. "It has a lot of potential to backfire." Taylor, the GOP political scientist, said the messy fight in Austin projected an unseemly spectacle for voters, and the speaker's use of phrases like "absolute" power and "there is no appeal" conjured up images of tyrants from another era.