Texas Republicans wage intraparty war as state braces for its most ‘painful’ election in modern history

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are spending their energy targeting centrist Republicans in the Texas House as party infighting is at a high ahead of the state’s primary Tuesday. 

Last year, the Texas House impeached Paxton on charges of corruption and abuse of office. Paxton was acquitted by the Texas Senate but sought revenge on Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan for the impeachment charges.

“It’s uniformly the most painful election we’ve experienced,” Phelan said.

Paxton has been campaigning for Phelan’s opponent, David Covey.

“We have to protect Texas, and it’s guys like David Covey that are gonna go down there and undo what the speaker has done,” Paxton said. The fight between Paxton and Phelan has also created a rift between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Phelan. Patrick is supporting Covey in the primary.

Phelan’s opponents said he hasn’t done enough to advance conservative policies in the state — a claim the speaker has questioned.

“We went from 50,000 abortions to 34, and they’re saying that that’s not pro-life. We have constitutional carry. You no longer have to get a permit from the government to carry a firearm, and they were saying that’s not good enough because convicted felons can’t have them,” Phelan said. “Tell me what’s left to do? Mandatory carry?”

A PAC helping back Paxton has spent $2.5 million campaigning against Phelan. 

“This is the nastiest, most negative campaign I’ve seen in Texas legislative history,” Phelan said. “They’re going to lose on March 5, and they’re going to regret every damn dime they spent.”

In tandem with the Paxton-Phelan infighting, Abbott is waging his own war against centrist Republicans in the Texas House. Abbott is fighting for school vouchers, a program that uses tax dollars for parents to send their children to private schools over public schools that is implemented in 30 states

The GOP is spending money on behalf of Abbott, who received a $6 million donation from a Pennsylvania billionaire in support for school vouchers. The Abbott campaign said it was the largest campaign donation in state history. 

“With this substantial financial backing, Governor Abbott will ensure that the conservative candidates who support his bold agenda to expand school choice, secure our southern border, and lower property taxes have what they need to keep Texas red,” Kim Snyder, Abbott’s campaign manager, said.

The infighting mirrors former President Donald Trump’s penchant for focusing his attention on cutting down members of his own party who have defied him.

Covey’s status as a challenger to a disloyal Republican might have earned him a crucial endorsement. He received a personal phone call from Trump, informing him that he had his backing to challenge Phelan.

“It was an incredible moment in my personal life and in the campaign,” Covey said. “His message was, as Texas goes, so goes the nation.”

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“Infighting is common in a state like Texas with one-party domination,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor, told Axios. “But in the past, the divide among Texas Republicans was about policy. At present, it’s about personality, and that’s Trump-driven.”

“It would be the most conservative legislative body in the country,” Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican consultant in Texas, said. “Dade and his allies are the only thing preventing that from happening.”

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