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Ken Paxton’s Impeachment Trial Will Shape Texas GOP Primaries

As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial draws closer, the political fallout inside the GOP is brewing.

The most interesting GOP divide over Paxton is in Collin County, where some Republicans angry over the impeachment are recruiting candidates to challenge House incumbents in next year’s GOP primary.

A potential recruit is Wayne Richard, one of Donald Trump’s most loyal North Texas activists. He is considering campaigning against Rep. Matt Shaheen, a Collin County Republican who voted to impeach the embattled Paxton.

A major caveat: Richard is waiting to see how Paxton’s Sept. 5 Senate trial unfolds. If the case against Paxton is weak and overblown, he’ll mount a District 66 campaign against Shaheen. If the evidence against Paxton is damning, Richard will likely opt against challenging the incumbent, who has held the seat since 2015.

The articles of impeachment involve alleged favors for a campaign donor made in exchange for home remodeling work and a job for the woman with whom Paxton is accused of having an affair. Paxton has denied wrongdoing and has been on unpaid suspension since his impeachment.

FILE - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in...
FILE – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has picked a longtime aide to serve as the state’s second acting attorney general following Paxton’s historic impeachment on allegations of misconduct and crimes, the governor’s office announced Monday, July 10. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)(Eric Gay / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Senate trial, which promises to be one of the biggest political spectacles in Texas history, will determine not only whether Paxton will be allowed to serve out his term, but whether the movement against Republicans who voted to impeach him expands or fizzles.

In an era when many Republican voters have largely ignored Trump’s legal troubles, the Paxton trial will also test whether another powerful GOP politician can beat back scandalous allegations and thrive.

But Paxton is not Trump, which has been evident since May, when House Republicans — including every member of the Collin County delegation — overwhelmingly voted to impeach him.

He is being held to account by members of his own party, which in Texas is near universally conservative. Calling anti-Paxton conservatives RINOs (Republicans in name only) won’t work for this process. Conservatives, not his progressive enemies, will determine Paxton’s fate.

The Dallas Morning News revealed that lawmakers were concerned about Paxton’s request to the Legislature for $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit.

“I don’t think y’all understand how pissed members are, including many of your conservative friends in the house and senate,” wrote Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, in a Feb. 10 text message to a Paxton senior adviser. “I don’t know a single legislator who believes taxpayers should be expected to be on the hook for this.”

Leach would later vote to impeach Paxton.

Now House Republicans who voted for impeachment are bracing for challenges from Paxton loyalists in 2024.

A gag order issued by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is being used by lawmakers to avoid talking publicly about the trial and the politics surrounding it. Based on conversations with some lawmakers before the gag order, I can sum up their views on how conservative voters will view their vote to impeach Paxton.

They believe evidence and testimony at the trial will make it difficult to cast Paxton as a victim of the process. Sorting out the allegations of bribery and corruption, along with details of an alleged extramarital affair, will be hammered into the public sphere during the trial. It will hit different from the original news accounts of whistleblower allegations against Paxton.

Imagine a debate at a community center or church hall, when a 2024 candidate blasts the impeachment of Paxton as political, and the incumbent rehashes the impeachment articles against the attorney general.

The Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton believe a Senate trial will be vindication of their decision.

Conservatives against impeachment will continue to argue that the process is flawed and that Republicans are being used for a greater scheme that plays into the hands of Democrats and Paxton’s rivals. While some voters will be swayed by that approach, the trial will create a stench that will persist even with the holding of a nose.

The outcome of the trial is also important.

If Paxton is acquitted — even on a technicality — the argument against his impeachment will gain strength.

Remember when Trump was acquitted for his two impeachments? He used those decisions to claim he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Paxton could do the same, and that would put the Republicans who voted to impeach him at some risk of political retribution.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury (right), who is on the committee to create the rules for the...
Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury (right), who is on the committee to create the rules for the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton, talks to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol before the Senate was expected consider the rules on Tuesday June 20, 2023. (Jay Janner / American-Statesman)

But if Paxton is convicted, it would mean Senate Republicans joined Democrats in the outrage over his conduct. He would be removed from office, and the movement against those who impeached him would lose steam.

Even the most skillful politicians, with the exception of Trump, can’t stand alone against nearly the entire GOP.

The biggest player in all the drama is Patrick, the powerful Senate president. He’s not only the judge of the trial, but the darling of grassroots conservatives across the state.

How Patrick feels at the end of the process could determine whether Paxton will become a martyr or part of a cautionary tale in the history books.

Source : TheDallasMorningNews