Editor's Note: This story has been updated to note a Tuesday, March 8, resolution passed by the Travis County Republican Party Executive Committee.
Chances are high that you know who Robert Morrow is by now. The incendiary and oftentimes juvenile middle-aged author leapt to national prominence after ousting the incumbent Travis County Republican Party chair in the March 1 Texas primary, to the deep chagrin of the local GOP establishment.
Morrow’s Twitter feed – a jaw-dropping stream of sexually explicit political accusations targeting both parties, mixed with salacious photos of scantily clad women – has made appearances on national news as well as late-night comedy shows, eliciting caustic ridicule and utter disbelief. Morrow’s obscene remarks (a representative example: “Pretty sure George W. Bush can suck a dick better than Hillary Clinton”) as well as his promotion of pet conspiracy theories, including the insistence that Lyndon Baines Johnson facilitated the murder of John F. Kennedy and belief that Rick Perry and many in the Bush family are engaged in homosexual adultery, have put the local and state GOP on the attack, compelling them to mount a no-holds-barred campaign to unseat the freshly minted chair.
Yet, whether you appreciate Morrow's brash “truth-telling” (as he calls it) and his hearty exercise of his First Amendment rights or consider him a misogynistic, homophobic, and troubled conspiracy theorist, the fact is – by fluke or not – he is a democratically elected public servant. So who is Robert Morrow, really? And perhaps more importantly, what the hell is an openly disloyal Republican activist aiming to achieve as county GOP chair – a mostly nuts-and-bolts, bureaucratic job?
Raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Morrow says he had a peaceful childhood. His middle-class family ascended to the upper class as his father, a real estate developer, gained success. A high school basketball star, he declined athletic scholarships at various colleges for a chance to attend Princeton University, where he majored in history in 1987. At the time he considered himself a liberal and caught the political bug when he helped his mother win a seat on the Alabama State Democratic Executive Committee (a post his grandfather had previously held). Morrow received an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1990, taking time off to campaign for presidential Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. After a four-year stint working back home at the family business, Morrow returned to Austin, dabbling in day trading and real estate before settling on being a self-employed investor. Declining to expound on what that job entails, Morrow leaves it at having “assets and income.” (“I’m not coy, I’m just not commenting on personal finances. People have their reasons,” he says guardedly.)
While he voted for George W. Bush, both when Bush was running for governor of Texas and for president (a decision Morrow now emphatically regrets), he says he’s a “small-L” Libertarian at his core, who supports Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Morrow favors Ted Cruz over Donald Trump in this year’s race, but applauds Trump for going after Jeb Bush. (He says Bernie Sanders is a “coward” and a “loser” for not attacking the “Hillary Clinton crime family.”) His political priorities include free speech, low taxes, and lax gun laws: “I think the ATF should be a corner convenience store where you buy your alcohol, tobacco, and firearms,” he says. Less vehement about the social issues, Morrow is pro-choice and against same-sex marriage. When asked about immigration, his trademark lewdness creeps up: We should build a wall to “keep all the sexy Mexican Latinas inside the U.S.”
By 2005, Morrow shed his loyalty to both parties after conducting deep research into the Bushes and Clintons, the latter yielding his latest project, The Clintons’ War on Women, a book co-authored with former Trump adviser Roger Stone. In it, the authors make the case that Bill Clinton is a serial rapist, and both he and Hillary “systematically abused women sexually and psychologically” while climbing up the political ladder. They accuse Hillary of silencing Bill’s victims, and allege Bill had a child with a prostitute. Even darker, it accuses Bill of coordinating the savage beating of attorney Gary Johnson, who allegedly had security footage of Bill entering former mistress Gennifer Flowers’ condo. Morrow also credits Hillary for making the final decision to launch a tear gas attack at the Branch Davidian Waco compound in 1993, which led to the death of 76 people. “The Clintons are violent people, it’s not like I just disagree with their tax policy,” says Morrow.
However, Morrow is most interested in perpetuating the idea that LBJ, using the CIA, orchestrated the JFK assassination. “I can go toe-to-toe with any researcher or mainstream historian on the topic,” contends Morrow, who says he was convinced of the claim after 15 minutes of reading about it on an online thread.
Morrow subscribes to accusations that slam the right, as well: George H.W. Bush covered up LBJ’s involvement with the JFK assassination; H.W. and his son Jeb were involved in running the Iran-Contra scandal; H.W. was part of a homosexual pedophile ring. Morrow claims Marco Rubio enjoys “gay foam parties” and contends that Perry has engaged in several gay affairs; Morrow took out an ad in this very paper in 2011 calling on anyone who had sex with Perry to contact him. “These politicians have conducted criminal acts, and they should be serving federal prison sentences,” says Morrow. “But what is the result of all this? They get presidential libraries and secret service protection for life, and I think that is both insane and outrageous.”
Many of Morrow’s accusations, especially on social media, are laced with depraved vulgarities, a peculiar method for someone who sells ideas that need all the credibility they can get. The crudeness, he says, is just a way to attract people’s attention to his message. But how does he defend himself against claims of misogyny after routinely posting photos of nearly naked women with captions like “I am feeling boobylicious tonight!” Morrow surely isn’t easing any of the concerns, saying, “Posting a photo of a bikini or lingerie model is not sexist, hello! Liking women with big titties is a natural, biological need and urge.”
Morrow says he decided to run for Travis County Republican Chair for two major reasons – disdain for the GOP establishment and a desire for vengeance. “I was just so disgusted with the Bush family – including Jeb and George P. – still being involved with Republican national politics after all their crimes. George W. is a good candidate for a war crime tribunal. And the son of these criminals and murderers is the Texas Land Commissioner now. They are corrupted vermin still getting honor and respect,” says Morrow. “Most political hacks will bow down to the Bushes, but I will do everything I can to undermine them, call them out for the thugs they are, and throw them down the political staircase headfirst – that’s how I roll.”
The second and more personal reason stems from a thwarted attempt to run for precinct chair two years ago. Morrow says incumbent James Dickey called up his friends and tried to convince them to persuade Morrow not to run. “So I said, fuck it, I’ll just run for county chair this time – and I beat him.”
Winning with 56% of the electorate, Morrow bested Dickey by 6,000 of the 47,000 votes cast on election night. His victory sent a shiver down the spine of Vice Chair Matt Mackowiak, who calls the win a mere fluke. Mackowiak chalks it up to the fact the race was listed at the bottom of the ballot, and that Morrow’s name appeared before Dickey’s. That, combined with anti-establishment Trump fervor and the possible confusion of Morrow with the actor Rob Morrow from Northern Exposure may have helped, says Mackowiak. Whatever the case, the vice chair is steadfast in his plans to prevent Morrow from taking office on June 13. “He’s not going to be chairman. Period,” Mackowiak tells the Chronicle.
The strategy is to ramp up public pressure for a resignation; if that is not successful, the party will significantly restrain Morrow’s ability to operate (cutting off access to party bank accounts and email lists) so that chair effectively becomes a meaningless position. The county party is currently exploring all legal options for having Morrow removed, says Mackowiak, but hasn’t zeroed in on one political path (an option: changing bylaws before Morrow takes office). The Republican pushback has the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, whose office recently issued a statement saying, Morrow “cannot adequately represent” the local GOP. “If he doesn’t resign,” says Mackowiak, “I will personally create an alternate organization in Travis County to recruit, train, and support GOP candidates, and then in two years, I will run a campaign against him.”
But how about that pesky democratic process that elected Morrow? Mackowiak says the GOP only serves Republicans, there’s no taxpayer money spent, and there are no constituents. “If I thought removing him would disadvantage anyone in Travis County, I wouldn’t do it. He’s going to hurt the Republican Party. And trust me, no one is going to notice anything different about their lives if he’s not chairman.”
Mackowiak says the majority of the 118 precinct chairs he’s spoken with oppose Morrow as chair. Donna Harp, a precinct chair since 1980, is one of them. If Morrow takes office, Harp says she will leave her longtime post. “Robert Morrow does not speak for the Party I know. His offensive words sicken and horrify me,” Harp tells the Chronicle. “If he assumes the office of Travis County Chair, I will resign as Precinct Chair. I do not want my reputation to be soiled by his vulgar identity. [The Travis Count Republican Party] has been a big part of my life so I don't say this easily.”
Yet, not every precinct chair is slamming Morrow. Gonzalo Camacho says the party should respect the democratic process and accept Morrow as chair; he also expressed mild sympathy for Morrow, now facing party-led barriers to office. “I am sure he will do his best… From the negativity created by Robert's election, it appears to me it will be challenging for James [Dickey] to transition Robert into the chair of TCRP,” said Camacho in an e-mail message. “Robert may have many hurdles that will get in his way to perform as best as he can as the new chair.”
Mackowiak points to the tedious, unpaid, and often thankless job requirements of county chair, including leading monthly meetings, running precinct and Senate district conventions for selecting state convention delegates, filling out finance reports, and training candidates. Morrow, Mackowiak argues, isn’t actually interested in the responsibilities.
Indeed, Morrow seems much less enthused about those aspects of the office, readily admitting he plans to use the position as a vehicle to espouse his controversial beliefs to a broader audience. “I am using the chairman spot of the Travis County Republican Party as a bully pulpit for political truth-telling,” says Morrow. “And I’m talking about things the mainstream media scum won’t talk about.”
“If I find any Republicans that use family, Christian conservative values, and the Bible as a political prop and at the same time they’re screwing the secretary or prostitutes, or has a gay lover, I’m gonna bust him, so beware. I’m sick of the hypocrisy.”
Update: The latest step the county has taken to distance itself from Morrow came Tuesday night, when the Travis County Republican Party Executive Committee approved a resolution denying any connection to the new chair. In an effort to "raise the level of public debate," the party "hereby condemns and disavows all profane or slanderous statements" made by Morrow, the resolution reads.
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