Travis County's Robert Morrow: Political Outlier or More of the Same?

Until election day, Robert Morrow was unknown. But when he was voted chairman of the Travis County Republican Party — a post of little importance in one of Texas's more liberal counties — his derogatory, sexist, racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, wildly speculative and entirely inaccurate rantings and ravings on social media quickly caught the eye of local and national media.

The Texas Tribune was the first to report on Morrow — according to the Tribune, Morrow chastised a Tribune reporter for declining to use the N-word when quoting him. Morrow then made the Washington Post and other national media outlets. He was even featured on John Oliver's satirical news show, Last Week Tonight, on HBO.

It is unclear how Morrow got this way. He grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His father ran a real estate business, and his mother was active in local politics, having served as the top official in Tuscaloosa County's Democratic Party for many years. Morrow was a talented high school basketball player — a gifted but, at 6-foot-4, undersized center. According to an archived Tuscaloosa News article, Morrow's private high school retired his jersey number, and although the paper said Morrow planned on playing basketball at Princeton, he was never listed on the university's varsity roster (we reached out to Morrow's high school basketball coach, hoping to get some perspective on Morrow, but he did not respond). 

In an interview with the Tuscaloosa paper, a high school-age Morrow sounded thoughtful, humble and reserved. "I really appreciate an honor like that," Morrow told the paper of having his jersey number retired as a senior. "I would like to say that I'm grateful to my teammates for playing so well and being so much fun to be around. I've achieved a lot at [this school], but most of it is through the teamwork of others. I've had a lot of memorable years [here]. I've enjoyed getting to know all the teachers and students."

That's quite a contrast to a much older Morrow who wrote these disturbing and unintelligible social media posts:

At Princeton (we verified that Morrow did actually graduate, having earned a degree in history in 1987; we also looked up some of Morrow's ex-classmates at Princeton, but no one we were able to find had any recollection of Morrow at the Ivy League school), Morrow penned an op-ed in the student newspaper calling for the impeachment of then-President Ronald Reagan. He later wrote his senior thesis on Reagan's involvement in Nicaragua. 

Morrow's blustery, authoritative tone in the op-ed piece remains the backbone of many of his more recent political opinions. But sometime between then and now, Morrow's viewpoint shifted drastically to the right before careening off a cliff. 

Decades later, in a book review Morrow wrote on Amazon.com about a Reagan biography, Morrow claimed two women told him Reagan paid them for sex while he was Governor of California:

These former hookers said that one of the fetishes that Reagan and [former Secretary of State] George Shultz liked were to have wooden clothes pins attached to their nipples. That image of the Gipper has always stayed with me: Ronnie and his future Secretary of State with clothes pins clamped on their nipples as they frolicked with young hookers back in the 1970’s. 
Morrow appears to be an avid reader and active promoter of political conspiracy theory books, specifically those that focus on John F. Kennedy's assassination and the Bush and Clinton families. It's unclear how he makes a living (he consistently refused to discuss his finances with multiple other media outlets, and he did not respond to our email requesting an interview). His father passed away in 1991, and in a 1998 article about conspiracy theorists, the Tampa Bay Times said Morrow "has no steady job but enjoys a family inheritance." Morrow spoke little about his life outside of his obsession with conspiracies. "Um, I like to work out at the gym," Morrow told the Times. "I like to go hiking. I like to ride my bicycle."

Morrow recently told the Austin American-Statesman that he earned a master's degree in real estate from the University of Texas before returning to Tuscaloosa to work for his father's business, but he left after a "conflict with certain people who were there." Morrow's brother, David, now runs the company — we left a message with him but have not heard back. 

Looking past his flair for the repugnant, it's hard to discern how a pro-abortion, Pope-defaming, anti-Israel, Osama-defending, Reagan/Bush-hating man like Morrow came to represent the Republican Party in Travis County. But Morrow's rise to political relevancy is maybe more representative of the greater conservative climate than it is an extreme outlier. Nationally, the leading Republican presidential candidate has accused all Mexicans of being rapists, joked about having sex with his own daughter and openly talked about his penis during a nationally televised GOP debate.

Then there is Mary Lou Bruner, an East Texas woman who will likely earn a spot on the state board of education. Bruner has said President Barack Obama was a gay prostitute, believes Paul Ryan's beard makes him a terrorist and has strong opinions about dinosaurs:

Perhaps political oddities like Morrow are the new normal.

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Leif Reigstad