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Revenge Is A Dish Best Served In The Texas Republican Primaries

Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton seem to have one thing on their minds when it comes to endorsements for the Texas Republican primaries: vengeance.

To say that Texas Republicans are fighting amongst themselves right now would be a gross understatement. While the legislative and executive branches have passed a slew of high priority conservative bills this year, two issues have sharply divided Abbott and Paxton from their party members in congress.

This first is school vouchers, Abbott’s white whale of a policy that once again met crushing defeat in the Texas House. His plan, backed by wealthy Christian nationalist donors like Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, was to let Texans use taxpayer money for private school tuition. In states where programs like this have passed like Ohio, more than 95 percent of the money ends up going to urban or suburban Christian schools. House Republicans from rural districts have consistently opposed the voucher system, seeing it as a threat on funding for the public schools that are often the biggest employer and community event hub for their districts.

There is virtually no hope of vouchers passing this year or next. Abbott has decided on a scorched Earth policy in response. The governor has endorsed 58 House Republicans, all supporters of his voucher plan. He has endorsed zero Republicans who opposed the bill. The endorsements came just days after the latest voucher bill defeat.

Meanwhile, Paxton has his own axe to grind. The attorney general was recently acquitted in the Texas Senate for misuse of office, but he was impeached by members of his own party in the House. In response, Paxton is supporting primary challengers against the Republicans who voted to impeach him. These include a challenge to House Speaker Dade Phelan, who Paxton treated as a personal nemesis throughout the process.

This oddly personal approach to endorsements has an interesting quirk to it. In at least 11 races, Abbott and Paxton are backing opposing candidates. Despite both Abbott and Paxton repeatedly claiming that their intra-party opposition was a wave of liberalism, the party was hardly in lockstep on these issues. Some who supported impeaching Paxton also supported vouchers, and vice versa.

This may turn the Republican primary into a contest about personal loyalty to top Texas Republican figures rather than one about policy or levels of conservativeness. Both Abbott and Paxton remain very popular with their conservative bases, and both men have the backing of powerful donors keen to see their favorite candidates’ stars continue to rise.

Of course, endorsements aren’t a guarantee of a win. Abbott in particular has a history of backing losing candidates, especially when it comes to him trying to enact vengeance. In 2018, Abbott attempted to swing races against Republicans who had angered him, succeeding only once out of four races.  Popular as Abbott and Paxton are, there’s little evidence their endorsement alone will enable them to do away with party members that angered them. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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