As the political landscape in Texas undergoes a transformation, the actions and positions of Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are emerging as pivotal factors shaping the future of the Republican Party.
Abbott’s Voucher Obsession
Gov. Abbott’s unwavering commitment to his top priority —vouchers— unintentionally set off a series of events that strained his relationships with fellow Republicans. By mid-June, discontentment spread across both chambers.
As Abbott vowed to target Republicans who opposed his voucher agenda, including endorsing primary challenges, the fissures within the GOP deepened.
“Each of these House Republicans are proven fighters, and I am proud to endorse every one of these strong conservatives who are seeking reelection,” Abbott said in a statement, after making good on his promise and endorsing 58 pro-voucher House Republicans running for reelection.
“I encourage Texans to join me in supporting them for re-election so we can pass school choice for all Texas families and continue to build a safer, brighter, and more prosperous Texas of tomorrow.”
The outcome of this feud could determine the future dynamics of the Texas GOP, with Abbott aiming for a more compliant Legislature that aligns with his priorities in the next session. However, a consideration arises: could Abbott’s strategies inadvertently expedite the decline of the Texas GOP in rural and suburban areas?
Abbott’s track record in past primary endeavors isn’t strong. In 2017, when he targeted three dissident representatives in an attention-grabbing, expensive campaign, he succeeded in winning only one race. Now in 2024, his strategic challenge centers on his approach of opponents specifically in districts where the school-voucher issue doesn’t strongly resonate with voters.
Abbott is directing his focus towards rural districts where public schools play a vital role as the community’s lifeline, and where the absence of private schools is prevalent. This strategy highlights a potential misalignment between Abbott’s statewide policy agenda and the local priorities of smaller communities.
Implications for the 2024 Elections
Throughout this year, a prevailing trend among Republicans has been their concerted effort to synchronize with national Republican agendas. Governor Abbott epitomized this approach by vigorously advocating for school vouchers, despite facing opposition from numerous Texas lawmakers.
As the Texas Observer pointed out, this year Republicans focused only on controversial social policies that would garner support from their far-right supporters.
Exemplified by AG Paxton’s behavior this year. Most recently, he caught everyone’s attention and it wasn’t over his impeachment over abuse of office or his myriad of other legal woes. Instead, he pushed the hardest of lines in Texas’s abortion ban.
Could Paxton’s recent actions be the base the Republican party wants heading into the all-important election year of 2024?
Rottinghaus sees Paxton’s activities as fulfilling his designated role in the Texas Republican Party.
“Ken Paxton is the Republicans’ designated hatchet man on the abortion issue,” he says. “It is a role he embraces, even if it makes him among the more unpopular state leaders. Paxton will be the face of the abortion issue in 2024, but Democrats will need to broaden their message beyond a single person to make a compelling political case.”
However, Rottinghaus also believes that these policies, like border barriers or abortion, could turn off general election voters.
The potential rise of more extreme candidates, especially in the Texas House, could create vulnerabilities for the GOP. Especially, if the GOP continues to grapple with internal divisions.