Texas Runoff Elections: Governance-Focused Republicans Prevail Over Paxton Allies


Runoff primary elections took place in Texas on Tuesday night for several contests that were proxy battles between the contentious State Attorney General Ken Paxton and more traditional Republicans, including Governor Greg Abbott. While some state race results favored candidates backed by Paxton, the evening largely benefited Republicans more focused on governance than showmanship.

Paxton narrowly escaped an impeachment effort last year and has since vowed retribution against those who supported his ousting. The impeachment was led by Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, who faced a tough reelection campaign against a challenger endorsed by both Trump and Paxton. However, on Tuesday night, Phelan managed to emerge victorious by a few hundred votes.

Former Majority Leader of the Texas House Craig Goldman, who also supported Paxton’s impeachment, similarly defeated business owner John O’Shea in the primary for Texas’s 12th Congressional District. Besides Paxton, O’Shea had the endorsement of figures like Roger Stone and had criticized Goldman for his support of aid to Ukraine.

In the most closely watched race of the evening, incumbent representative Tony Gonzales narrowly fended off a primary challenge from gun YouTuber Brandon Herrera in the state’s 23rd Congressional District. The Abbott-backed Gonzales faced criticism from Herrera for his centrist voting record and support of certain gun control measures, while Gonzales criticized Herrera’s commitment to joining the House Freedom Caucus if elected. Gonzales had made some disingenuous attacks against Herrera, including calling him a “neo-Nazi,” but the swing district likely would have turned blue had Herrera been the nominee.

These electoral victories are a cautious win for competence-minded Republicans. While Tuesday night’s results cannot simply be characterized as a rebuke of Ken Paxton or the House Freedom Caucus, the political unseriousness of both certainly played a role.

Reflecting on Paxton’s acquittal, it is more likely that political pressures influenced the outcome rather than his claimed innocence. Paxton had been embroiled in scandals for nearly a decade, and 70% of the Republicans in the state house voted for his impeachment before it was defeated in the state senate. It was only after the political tide turned against his impeachment that it failed.

Regarding the Freedom Caucus, the elections in Texas were just a part of a series of setbacks for the group. Earlier this month, Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) decisively defeated a Freedom Caucus-backed challenger, while former President Donald Trump recently endorsed a primary challenger to the Freedom Caucus chairman, Rep. Bob Good (R-VA). Moreover, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) faces a tough reelection campaign, and Matt Gaetz continues to be plagued by controversies.

With the notable exception of Trump, Republican voters are opting for more conventionally conservative candidates when given the choice. It appears that many Republicans are beginning to recognize that, after nearly a decade of distractions and infighting, the Freedom Caucus is little more than a sideshow. If current trends persist for the GOP, this year’s congressional elections will not be a repeat of 2022’s failures, and the quality of candidates will be a significant contributing factor.

Ben Rothove
Ben Rothove
Contributor. Benjamin Rothove is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, serves as the Chairman of UW-Madison Students for DeSantis, and is the National Vice-Chair of Young Leaders for Keep Nine.

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