With 38 electoral votes that haven’t gone to a Democrat since 1976, Texas is the heart of the Republican Party. Right now, Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton in the state by 6 points in the RealClearPolitics average. But that’s a notable decline from where Republican candidates are used to polling in Texas—Mitt Romney won the state by 16% in 2012 after John McCain won by 12%.

It’s not hard to explain this fall. Trump is still performing well among white voters, but non-white voters overwhelmingly support Clinton, and their share of the vote is increasing. The Hispanic vote in particular is important to watch—the Office of the State Demographer projects Hispanics to outnumber whites in the state by 2020 and emerge as the state’s majority population by 2042.

These rapidly shifting demographics have some Democrats eyeing the prospect of turning the state purple or even blue. Their logic appears sound—Latinos typically vote 2 to 1 for Democrats—so as they emerge as a plurality in the state, Democrats should begin to perform competitively against Republicans. But that’s an oversimplification. The prospect of a blue Texas is much farther away than it might appear at first glance. Mark P. Jones, Professor of Political Science at Rice University, doesn’t think that the Republican majority is in serious danger quite yet.

“If Republicans continue to alienate Latino voters, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for them to retain their majority status. Although I would not see that status threatened anytime this decade. And that’s in part because although we do talk a lot about the Republican party’s Latino problem, the Texas Democratic party has a far more severe Anglo problem… Republicans on average will win a higher share of the Anglo vote than Democrats will of the Latino vote,” said Jones in an interview with The Politic.

This “Anglo problem” is more damaging to the Democrat’s hopes in the state than a quick glance at the demographics would leave one to believe.

“Latinos represent only about 20% of the people who actually cast a ballot, whereas Anglos represent about 65% of the people who actually cast a ballot,” said Dr. Jones. If this trend continues, then it will be tougher for Democrats to make gains in the state without appealing to white voters. And it’s hardly going to be easy for Democrats to solve their “Anglo problem.”

“One of the dilemmas that the Texas Democratic Party faces in that in some of its efforts to ramp up Latino voter participation, it engages in rhetoric that has a strong racial or ethnic identity aspect to it. But then the signal that sends to some Anglos is that the party doesn’t represent them,” Jones said.

The Democratic Party of Texas faces an interesting balancing act. How can it reach out to Latino voters while still making inroads with white voters? Jones believes that education could be the answer. It’s a topic popular within both Latino and Anglo communities. Democrats may be able to use their strong support of public education to appeal to middle class whites in the state, who perhaps have been negatively affected by funding cuts. Still, making these gains among white voters will not be easy.

It certainly doesn’t help their prospects that the Texas Democratic Party is, in Jones’ words, “not exactly a finely tuned machine.” Because Texas has in recent history been seen as a solidly red state, the Texas Democratic Party hasn’t received near the national attention of other states where Democratic prospects are more favorable. Its infrastructure within the state doesn’t compare to that of the Republican party.  Yet changing demographics and the rhetoric of the Republican nominee have presented an opportunity for the party to make significant inroads within the state this election cycle.

“Trump today, because of his very harsh rhetoric that is interpreted by a majority of Latinos as anti-Latino has driven down Latino support for himself but is also likely to have negative down ballot repercussions in a wide-range of competitive elections throughout the state,” said Jones.

Fortunately for Republicans, they are mostly sheltered by rampant gerrymandering within the state. Texas has no competitive state Senate races, one competitive U.S. house race, and roughly a dozen competitive state house races. Yet Trump is still is having an effect on races, which can perhaps best be seen in District 23’s House race between incumbent Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Pete Gallego.

“Much of Gallego’s campaign is based on trying to link Hurd to Trump and forcing Hurd to be in a no-win situation of either denouncing Trump and alienating Republicans and potentially hurting himself in future Republican primaries or not-denouncing Trump and running the risk of incurring the wrath of Latino voters,” Jones said.

Although he is expected to perform more poorly with Texas Hispanics than Mitt Romney, who won 29% of their vote, it’s not entirely clear whether Trump has damaged the Republican brand with Latinos beyond 2016. Cal Jillson, Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University, is skeptical that Trump has created lasting damage.

“Nothing is permanent in politics, because the next candidate might have a credible history and a way to relate to the Latino community,” said Jillson.

As recently as 2014, Republicans have had very real success within the Latino community. Current Republican governor Greg Abbott made reaching out to the Latino community a big priority of his campaign, even airing his first campaign commercial in Spanish on Univision. This outreach paid off in a big way – Abbott won 44% of the Latino vote. His success shows that a large Latino population does not have to be a death knell for the Republican Party. Nevada and New Mexico, two states with large Latino populations that both have Hispanic Republican governors, serve as other models for the Republican Party to follow. Latinos do not simply represent a voting bloc, and Donald Trump’s rhetoric will likely not be enough to turn them permanently against the Republican brand.

“You can say that Trump’s performance in this election will make Hispanics more wary of the next Republican candidate, but that candidate could overcome that wariness with particular personal attributes and policy positions,” said Jilson. He believes that if Jeb Bush had won the primary, Bush might have had some real success within the Latino community because of his Hispanic wife and Spanish fluency. If Republicans run more Hispanic-friendly candidates in the future then their grip on the state will continue to remain tough. .

“A purple Texas, let alone a Democratic majority, is a decade, or more likely, two decades out because when Texas does become anything close to competitive [the] huge amount of conservative money that leaves Texas to play in other races electing conservative governors and senators in the rest of the country will come home in an avalanche to try to hold Texas for the Republican party and conservatism when that seems necessary,” said Jilson.  

It may not even require massive sums of money for the Republicans to hold on to Texas’ enormous hall of 38 electoral votes. A softening of the Republican stance on immigration reform that includes some sort of regularization or path towards citizenship would go a long way towards gaining Hispanic support for the party. Many Republican principles are quite popular with Latino voters, but the harsh, offensive rhetoric of the party on issues like immigration drives away those voters.

Jones believes that Republicans can win support among Latinos by stressing their belief in traditional social values and highlighting their belief in lower taxes and smaller government which is especially popular among Hispanics in the entrepreneurial sector. The issue of gun control might also prove to be a boon for Republicans in the state.

“Among the Latino community here in Texas there is strong support for Second Amendment rights, both in South Texas because of hunting and tradition but also in urban areas because of issues of crime,” said Jones.

There are very real issues the Republican Party can highlight to gain support within the Latino community. And it’s not like Republicans aren’t trying to do just that.

“You’ll often see one group of Republicans making strong overtures to the Latino community, doing events in Spanish, and talking about issues that really matter, and then all of that goodwill is often undermined by another member saying that we need to deport all of the Mexicans and referring to Latinos here in Texas as Mexicans,” said Jones, “It’s often two steps forward, two steps back.”

Those divisions within the Republican party make it hard to predict what exactly the future holds for it in Texas. Jilson believes that it’s premature to forecast what the Republican Party will look like in the coming decades. Trump may very well prove to be a flash in the plan and the Republican Party might reassume its traditional position as the conservative party of Reagan, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it emerges from the 2016 election cycle as a populist party. The uncertain status of the Republican Party makes a prognosis for Texas difficult.

Still, although it may be a fool’s errand to try to predict the future (who saw 2016 coming even just a year ago?), it’s not unreasonable to project Texas to become more competitive in the coming decades. A battle for the state certainly looms in the future, but the Republicans currently hold a massive advantage in party infrastructure. Texas may very well forecast the direction of the parties nationally.

“The Democratic party that does become credible to win elections in Texas is going to be a vastly different Democratic party than the last time it was the majority party,” said Jilson. The future of the two parties in Texas is unpredictable—and that’s exciting.  

Correction October 21, 2016:
An earlier version of the introduction to this article stated that a Democrat had not carried Texas’ electoral college since 1972. In fact, Jimmy Carter was the last to do so in 1976.

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