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What the impeachment of the Texas attorney general means for Ken Paxton and his party

Republican supporter Dolly Schultz holds flags outside of a polling place at SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center at the start of voting in Uvalde, Texas, on November 8, 2022. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)
Republican supporter Dolly Schultz holds flags outside of a polling place at SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center at the start of voting in Uvalde, Texas, on November 8, 2022. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans in the Texas House voted overwhelmingly last week to impeach State Attorney General Ken Paxton. Charges include fraud, bribery and more.

But it’s also revealed a divide in the Texas GOP itself.

“The suddenness with which this happened has shocked the entire Texas political world. These allegations have been looming out there,” Taylor Goldenstein, Austin bureau reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says. “And then within the span of three days, we we’re talking impeachment.”

Is this a moment of reckoning for the hard right in Texas?

“I don’t think this issue is going to change the trajectory of the Republican Party of Texas has decided to take. If anything, I think it would make them stronger and more powerful,” Sergio Martinez Beltran, legislative reporter for KUT, says.

Today, On Point: The Paxton impeachment.

Guests

Taylor Goldenstein, Austin bureau reporter for the Houston Chronicle.

Matt Mackowiak, GOP political and communications consultant. President of Potomac Strategy Group, based in Austin and Washington.

Jeronimo Cortina, political scientist at the University of Houston.

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: On May 26th, Texas Attorney General Republican Ken Paxton, facing the biggest challenge of his political career, went before the cameras and appealed to his grassroots supporters.

KEN PAXTON: The political theater must come to an end. I’m grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received from so many Texans who understand this process is unjust and unethical. This shameful process was curated from the start as an act of political retribution. This vote is expected to take place Saturday at 1 p.m., and I want to invite my fellow citizens and friends to peacefully come let their voices be heard at the Capitol tomorrow.

CHAKRABARTI: The process Paxton was referring to Texas as attorney general was facing impeachment. The next day, the state’s House of Representatives gathered to vote. Representative David Spiller of Texas’s 68th District is like Paxton, a solid red Republican, and he was one of the first to speak for impeachment.

DAVID SPILLER: Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas. Attorney General Paxton has a brilliant legal mind and has worked diligently for the state of Texas. But members, no one person should be above the law, at least not the top law enforcement official of the state of Texas.

CHAKRABARTI: Paxton faced two articles of impeachment.

The Attorney General Paxton abused his office and his powers for personal gain. Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures to intervene and interfere in the civil disputes and criminal matters of his donor and friend Nate Paul and benefitting himself.

CHAKRABARTI: One of the charges also related to an extramarital affair. Here’s Ann Johnson, a Democrat representing Texas’s 134th District.

ANN JOHNSON: Why is the affair important? The affair is important because it goes to Ken Paxton’s political strength. He knows that with his folks he is family values. He is a Christian man. And the idea of the exposure of the fair will risk him with his base.

CHAKRABARTI: Texas House of Representatives has a Republican supermajority. That’s why national attention has been focused on what’s happening in Austin. Would Republicans vote to impeach one of their own? Well, by the end of the day, they did. Overwhelmingly, all it required was a simple majority.

But the impeachment vote passed 121 to 23, including a substantial majority of Republicans in the Texas House. Of course, the process now moves to the Texas state Senate, which leaves many wondering, does the vote highlight a conflict within the Texas GOP itself? Well, joining us first today from Austin is Taylor Goldenstein. Taylor’s the Austin bureau reporter for the Houston Chronicle and has covered Ken Paxton extensively. Taylor, welcome to On Point.

TAYLOR GOLDENSTEIN: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, take us back to the actual day of the impeachment vote in the Texas House. Was there uncertainty as to how the vote was going to end up even at that time?

GOLDENSTEIN: I would say so, yeah. I mean, it seemed like if this is something being brought up that there was clearly interest and … the speaker had gauged that this is something that Republicans were willing to consider. But whether it would be a modest vote or, you know, what it ended up being, which is this overwhelming vote, was very much up in the air.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, as you know, we in the national media love attention grabbing headlines. So everyone talking about this as, you know, kind of almost like an earthquake within the Texas GOP. But how is it reverberating within Texas itself, when that vote came down, that 121 to 23 vote? Was it seismic or not?

GOLDENSTEIN: I would say so. I mean, I think just, you know, aside from the vote, you know, even beforehand, just this coming up at all was a shock to a lot of people because these charges have been out there for a long time. The allegations have been out there for a long time. And then within the span of three days, you went from just a committee hearing to, you know, full out impeachment, which hasn’t happened, you know, in decades.

CHAKRABARTI: Three days. Just three days. So I want to come back to that in a quick second here, Taylor. But first of all, we’ve mentioned this long laundry list of charges, those some 20 charges, Right? Can you just walk me through a couple of what you think are the most significant ones?

GOLDENSTEIN: Sure. So probably about half, ten or so of them have to do with allegations by some of Paxton’s former top aides. And they were working under him. You know, back in 2020. And, you know, they witnessed what they said were, you know, a ton of instances of abuse of office. So that ranged from intervening in a civil suit to help a friend and donor. And that included pushing staff to write legal opinions that would help that donor, all kinds of things.

And they allege that he had received certain favors in exchange. So they allege that he had received home renovations in exchange … different things that he might have benefited from. And they actually were fired and filed a lawsuit against the attorney general for retaliation. And so that lawsuit is pretty much the basis of, I would say, most of the impeachment articles.

CHAKRABARTI: And is that lawsuit that led to what the $3 million settlement that Paxton is alleged to have paid out with government funds?

GOLDENSTEIN: Yes, exactly. Yeah. The groups came to a settlement in February for $3.3 million. And by state law, because it’s the office of the attorney general that’s named, it’s the state that’s on the hook for that money.

CHAKRABARTI: But people are alleging that it was improper or illegal for him to use state funds to pay out the settlement. I’m not quite clear on that part of the story here.

GOLDENSTEIN: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s more of an opinion matter. The House speaker had said from the beginning that he didn’t think it was a proper use of taxpayer funds. And I think that’s more, you know, not necessarily that it would have been illegal, but that from an optics perspective or just from a conscience perspective, he didn’t feel like that was a right. That the taxpayers should have to put out that money for something that, you know, we will never know if it settles. But, you know, that potentially had to do with misconduct.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Got it. But the optics seem to matter a lot here because something did change in the period of that those three days that you’re talking about. Let’s listen to a little bit more of the debate that took place just prior to the Texas House taking that impeachment vote of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Here’s Republican Charlie Geren. He’s speaker pro tempore of the Texas House. And this is what he said during debate members.

CHARLIE GEREN: One of the key responsibilities of the general investigating committee is to look beyond partisan affiliation in order to take the necessary steps to protect the institution that is our state government. And I would like to point out that several members of this House, while on the floor of this House during the state business, received telephone calls from General Paxton personally threatening them with political consequences and our next election.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Taylor, what is he talking about there?

GOLDENSTEIN: Right. So as you heard, he alleged that members on the floor were getting threatening phone calls from the attorney general himself, threatening political consequences if they voted for impeachment.

CHAKRABARTI: Possibly making Paxton even less popular amongst the very people who are going to take a vote on his impeachment.

GOLDENSTEIN: There is even, you know, after that … there was a Democrat who, you know, asked whether maybe jury tampering should be added to the articles because of that move.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So this gets us back to the question of why now? Because as you said, these charges and allegations have been kind of bubbling for years. … Do you have any sort of intel on what happened within those three days between that committee meeting and the decision to hold an impeachment vote in the Texas House?

GOLDENSTEIN: Yeah, And I should say, too, I mean, three days for the public. The investigation had apparently been going on since March, but that was kept confidential. So, you know, not that the investigation took three days, but that the public really, you know, became aware and then all of a sudden it was happening so soon. But yeah, I think the reason for it really depends who you ask.

You know, House leadership has been saying that it was the settlement that really pushed them over the edge to think about, okay, if we’re putting money toward this, you know, let’s make sure we really understand what we’re paying for, what the allegations are here. And so they put together a team of lawyers to look into it. I think there have been other theories floated that I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

But, you know, we know that the FBI has been looking into this issue. Is it possible that lawmakers were afraid that maybe charges may come down before they had a chance to deal with it on their own? I think that’s definitely possible. But yeah, it’s hard to say what was really exactly the tipping point. But they say the law. They say the settlement.

CHAKRABARTI: What I find really, really interesting is that, I mean, that vote was overwhelming in the Texas House and it included a lot of sort of hard-line Republicans who would ostensibly have been Ken Paxton’s supporters previously. Now, for those folks who did vote to not impeach him, it was interesting because they didn’t necessarily claim his innocence. So here’s Republican Tony Tinderholt of the 94th District. And he’s talking about how he says the House didn’t afford him due process.

TONY TINDERHOLT: We’ve decided our chamber is nothing more than a weapon to wield against political opponents. This body is afforded more time for debating tampon tax relief than we’ve given to deciding whether to impeach the highest law enforcement officer in our state. Now, our attorney general, who is strongly reelected by the voters in both our primary and general election, might be impeached today because he’s a political opponent of the opposing party.

CHAKRABARTI: Republicans overwhelmingly voted to impeach Paxton. So talk about the nature of the sort of ersatz defense that his supporters gave in the House.

GOLDENSTEIN: Right. Yeah, you’re definitely right. It was not necessarily that, you know, Paxton hasn’t done any of these things. It was more … he wasn’t given an opportunity to speak in front of the committee or in front of investigators. They felt that the timing, you know, was very, very short. And so a lot of different aspects of the process.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, Taylor, we’re going to hear from a couple other folks in just a quick minute here. But I did want you to give us your analysis, if you could, about whether or not you think that the fact of the impeachment vote signals some kind of exposure of a divide within the Texas GOP itself.

GOLDENSTEIN: I think it definitely exposed fractures, but maybe not the one that one might think. Looking at this, you know, from an outside perspective, not knowing Texas politics, I think that, you know, I don’t think this represents a breaking away from former President Donald Trump.

The morning of the impeachment, he had put out, you know, messages on social media … in support of Ken Paxton. And, you know, as we saw was this overwhelming vote. And I would say maybe half or a good chunk of the Texas Freedom Caucus still voted for it. And I don’t think that speaks to necessarily that Trump’s pull is any less strong and more speaks to the severity of the accusations against Paxton.

CHAKRABARTI: Are you saying that national media doesn’t understand local politics?

GOLDENSTEIN: … Well, no, I just think from an outside perspective, it would be easy to say, oh, it’s you know, this is potentially a sign of less of an influence from Trump. And I think, you know, being here and knowing that these charges have been out there so long, I think it points to that, you know, Republicans are voting for this. It means that they must have had other reasons or a strong reason to go against such a strong political force here.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So not necessarily a referendum on former President Donald Trump, because Paxton is an avowed supporter of Trump or a referendum on Trumpism. We’ll talk more in the hour there about what this actually does mean for Texas Republicans. But if you just hang on here for a second, Taylor. I want to turn now to Matt Mackowiak. He’s a GOP political and communications consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group based in Austin and Washington. And he consults for more conservative politicians in Texas. Has not worked, though, for Attorney General Ken Paxton. Matt, welcome to On Point.

MATT MACKOWIAK: Pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So focusing once again, just on the attorney general himself, what impact do you think the impeachment vote is going to have on Paxton’s future?

MACKOWIAK: Well, it’s all going to come down to whether he’s removed from office by the Senate during the trial, which is expected anywhere between late July and late August, or whether he somehow survives. And if he survives, it could actually strengthen him within the Republican Party to some extent. He will have overcome his most serious political threat.

You still will have perhaps the DOJ, FBI legal risk out there. But it really, I think, puts the issue behind him. Obviously, if he’s removed from office, my understanding of state law is that not only could he not be attorney general, but he can’t serve in any other office. I presume that’s just the state level. So he has a hell of a lot riding on this over the next two months. And, you know, I imagine if he’s in the fight, he feels as though he’s in the fight of his life.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, how would you describe sort of Paxton’s position, his role, his sort of influence in the Texas GOP itself?

MACKOWIAK: Yeah. So he’s more on the sort of hardline or conservative wing of the party. He’s been an anti-establishment figure for some time, really kind of gone against establishment candidates in seeking different offices. He challenged our sitting speaker. I don’t know, ten or 12 years ago, he overcame a pretty significant three-way race to win the attorney general’s office initially, including defeating a leadership member who was chair of the Higher Education Committee, Dan Branch of Dallas. Just in November, he won reelection again, this time by 10%.

And in the primary he overcame, George P. Bush, a Latina member of the state Supreme Court, Eva Guzman, and Louie Gohmert, a member of Congress. So he is aligned with grassroots conservatives and with the conservative movement nationally. He certainly is aligned with Trump. There’s no question. … There’s probably no one in Texas more closely aligned politically with Trump than Ken Paxton is.

And so he has kind of two enemies here. He has, you know, Democrats who’ve wanted to go after him for some time to some extent about these corruption issues, but mostly due to the way he conducts the office and the way he looks at various policy issues. But then he also has mainstream Republicans, particularly in the Texas House, who have been then interested in going after him for some time, and this settlement gave them that opportunity.

CHAKRABARTI: Aha. You know what’s interesting to me, though, as far as I read, the actual vote in that took place in the House, it was at least some of the sort of Trump aligned members of Republican members of the House who also voted for Paxton’s impeachment. So how do you read that, Matt?

MACKOWIAK: Yeah, that was interesting. I mean, look, the margin in the house was bigger than I expected. I think it was 121 to 23. And I don’t think it was a clear sort of clean ideological break between sort of the hardline conservatives and the mainstream members. You had some mainstream members, a long-term serving member … named John Smith, who made an impassioned case against impeachment, not because he supports Paxton, in fact, he opposed them, I believe, in the primary.

But then you had hardline members of the Texas Freedom Caucus who voted to impeach. So in the House, I think it was really more of a decision of conscience for all members. Part of what was different, which I think is a reasonable criticism, is that the attorney general had no ability to present a defense. The House basically served as a grand jury. And so he couldn’t call witnesses, he couldn’t provide testimony, he couldn’t provide evidence.

He’s going to have presumably some ability to do those things in the trial that they have to decide the process for the trial here this month. But you’re going to see, I think, him be able to present a defense. I know, for example, he has said that he has paid for all the renovations to his house, that the donor didn’t pay for them. That’s either true or not. It can either be proven or it cannot be proven. And I think that will be a pretty material fact as it relates to the corruption allegations related to the house renovations.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, regarding the point that you just made, Matt, we have a clip here from Republican Tom Smith during the debate. He represents Texas’s 86th. And here’s why. He urged the House to vote no on impeachment.

TOM SMITH: I’m not here today to tell you that General Paxton should not be impeached. That’s not why I’m here. Bottom line, I don’t know whether he should or not, because I don’t have the evidence before me to make that determination. There’s a right way to do things and there’s a wrong way to do things. If you want to do this the right way. What we should do is vote no on the resolution today.

CHAKRABARTI: When Paxton’s supporters say, you know, that the attorney general was not allowed to present a defense, but nevertheless, all the House members had access, I presume, to the results of the investigations that had been going on about Paxton. Is that correct?

GOLDENSTEIN: Right. Right. Yeah, I think that’s been the House response or the committee’s response. Is that, you know, their job was to decide is there enough there for them to go ahead and have a trial. And the trial is really where, you know, Paxton would get his chance to give his defense.

CHAKRABARTI: So, I mean, I guess in that case, Matt’s analogy is right. There’s a grand jury and then there’s a trial. And that trial is going to happen in the Senate, in Texas, the state Senate. So, Matt, do you care to give a prediction about what might happen in the Senate, given that a surprising number of Paxton’s, you know, most ardent supporters in the House voted for impeachment? What do you think?

MACKOWIAK: Yeah, I think there’s a really key difference between the House and the Senate. And there’s two key differences. One is he’ll be able to offer that defense, which I think may raise doubts among in this case, the jurors, meaning the senators, the 31 senators. But second is the Senate is the most conservative it’s ever been. This is the most conservative Texas Senate Texas has ever had.

We had one or maybe one and a half moderates on the Republican side in the last session before the last election. They both are now gone. … But the Senate is really, really, really conservative. And so this is all happening at a time when the House and Senate are already fighting. They’re fighting over property taxes, they’re fighting over school choice, they’re fighting over other issues.

So I don’t think the Senate wants to rubber stamp what the House has done here. I think they are going to look at it carefully. I think you’re going to see both sides. You need two thirds vote to remove him from office. That’s nine Republicans presumably joining with all 12 Democrats. I tend to think that they won’t remove him, that you won’t get nine votes. You might get a handful of Republicans, perhaps. But that’s my sense right now. But we have to see what the process is going to be for the trial.

We saw that six of Paxton’s deputies are taking a leave from the AG’s office to defend him in the trial. I think that’s a sign that they obviously believe in his defense. But I will say that the investigating committee, you know, in terms of the investigation they conducted in the way they conducted it, obviously presented a compelling case for the Texas House. So it could be that you’re going to have a compelling case presented on both sides in the Senate, whereas in the House you only had it presented on one side.

CHAKRABARTI: So I wonder what finally, Matt, what your sort of take is on whether or not this is an inflection point for the Texas GOP? Because, you know, I definitely hear Taylor in her analysis about it may not be the inflection point that the rest of the nation thinks it is, but it does seem like kind of a big landmark for Republicans to vote to impeach one of their own. I mean, do you think this could, when we’re looking back a couple of years from now, we might look at this as a moment of change for the Texas GOP?

MACKOWIAK: That’s interesting question. You know, I tend to think this is a unique case. Paxton’s a unique case. The facts here are a unique case. You have a lot of history with him in the House, having challenged a sitting speaker. And so I don’t know. I mean, if your point is that maybe this could break a partisan sort of lock on the way elected representatives do things. I guess that’s possible. I tend to think these things are probably just more unique to Paxton himself. I think where it matters more is how this could affect elections in Texas four years from now.

We have a governor, lieutenant governor who have been there for some time. There’s speculation that one or both of them may not seek reelection. Paxton would be a natural candidate to run for office, for an office like lieutenant governor if he’s able to survive this.

So I think that’s going to be an interesting subplot, because you have a couple senators in there, I think, who might also be interested in running for lieutenant governor. So this might be a way to remove a future rival. You would hope those kinds of considerations wouldn’t be the determining factor. But politics is a blood sport.

CHAKRABARTI: Matt mentioned the impact that Paxton’s either continued presence on the Texas political scene or maybe if he is found guilty by the Texas state Senate, his absence from the political scene, what impact that might have? Well, not just on Paxton’s own political future, but on other races around the state of Texas. So here’s Ross Barrera.

He’s a Republican politician who ran for mayor of Rio Grande City in Texas in 2022. He lost, but he’s running again in 2024. And he and other Republicans have been trying to woo voters in the Rio Grande Valley, most of whom were once reliably Democrats. And Ross Barrera tells us he thinks Attorney General Ken Paxton is really hurting those efforts.

ROSS BARRERA: And this is just me speaking and not for any party, but for others that I’ve spoken with is that it’s lingering and it’s very hard to defend our party. And people that were coming to our party saying, look, you guys are defending this guy who’s been … he’s been indicted by the whole Texas House, which is mainly Republicans. People are acknowledging that he is going to be a liability for the upcoming elections. So they’re saying, you know, get the guy out. We thank you for serving, Mr. Paxton, but you need to go.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, joining us now is Jeronimo Cortina. He’s a political scientist at the University of Houston, and he joins us from Houston. Professor Cortina, welcome to you.

JERONIMO CORTINA: Hi, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: So tell us, respond to what Ross Barrera said there about sort of the ripple effect of the impeachment and Ken Paxton’s sort of moves and behavior within Texas over the past couple of years?

CORTINA: Well, I mean, it’s a very interesting [position] and a very interesting question, and especially when you look at the Texas Republican Party, you have a big tent, right? And in this big tent, you have social conservatives, then you have fiscal conservatives, and then you have, you know, business conservatives or your more traditional Republicans. So when you put all these groups together under this big tent, that creates a lot of friction.

So you have significant thing, you know, between … the social conservatives, those that do not want the government or want the government out of almost everything, fiscal conservatives. Then you have business conservatives that want to see, you know, more spending on infrastructure, transportation, education, and that creates this spark. And I think that, you know, this case creates a very particular case in which these parties can be indicated that something bigger might happen. And I want to underline might. Because we still don’t know how it’s going to turn out at the end.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, yeah. So this is why we find what’s happening in Texas so interesting, right? Because there is the tendency to, you know, look at for the Texas state legislature and see that Republican supermajority and want to just put them all in the Trumpist box. But you’re saying that’s not at all really the true texture of the Texas Republican Party?

CORTINA: Well, I mean, looking at the impeachment, the ten most conservative members of the Republican Party, you have a 5050 split, right? When you look at the 2021 vote record and how these representatives voted, the ten most Republican, the ten most conservative representatives from the Republican Party, five voted in favor of impeachment and five voted against it. So I think that’s a very interesting indication of all the tensions and the real needy texture that we need to understand.

CHAKRABARTI: I just want to play another moment here from the impeachment debate that took place in the Texas House, when they took the vote to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton. Here’s Democrat Ann Johnson talking about Paxton receiving a campaign donation when he was a member of the House a decade ago, from the CEO of a software company in return for, quote, services.

JOHNSON: When he gets busted on that, he says, no, it’s just a gift. And somebody says, What do you mean it’s a gift? And he says, I met a guy in a Dairy Queen. And he told me, God told me to give you this $100,000. Speaker Geren said it really well. I have never had anybody come up to me and said, God told me that I should give you $100,000. That’s not the only $100,000 incident.

CHAKRABARTI: So more evidence there of how allegations from a decade ago are coming home to roost now with the attorney general in Texas. But let’s step back a little bit here, because Ken Paxton has a very clear, very clear position and very clear persona on the national stage as one of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters.

Of course, it was the Texas attorney general who filed a national lawsuit denying the election results of the 2020 presidential election. And Attorney General Ken Paxton also appeared on January 6th, 2021, at that Trump rally that happened before the attacking of Congress.

PAXTON: What we have in President Trump is a fighter, and I think that’s why we’re all here. We believe in what he’s accomplished over the last four years because we’re here today. The message goes on. We will not quit fighting. We’re Texans. We’re Americans, and we’re not quitting. God bless you for being here today. God bless this great country we live in. Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Taylor, we’re going to focus back on Paxton within Texas in just a minute here. But, you know, analyze that national character that he has. I mean, when did he become a true supporter of former President Donald Trump? And, you know, how would you describe why he became that kind of supporter?

GOLDENSTEIN: Right. I mean, I think pretty much from the get-go, they’ve been very closely aligned and have supported each other over the years. And it’s really no surprise considering their politics. Both of them sit at the far right, you know, edge of the party and, you know, have a lot of the same beliefs when it comes to election fraud. The border, you know, all kinds of social issues. And so, yeah, they’re kind of, you know, cut from the same cloth.

CHAKRABARTI: And has Ken Paxton always been sort of this hard right Republican as he rose in Texas politics?

GOLDENSTEIN: I would say so, yeah. I mean, he has made a name for himself amongst, you know, the grassroots. I think he really takes pride in coming up from the grassroots. He has strong support in his home county of Collin County in the Dallas area. And yeah, that goes back to, you know, even his time in the legislature.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So tell us a little bit more about that, because he served in the Texas House, right?

GOLDENSTEIN: Both, actually. You know, it’s pretty similar to how he is now, I think, you know, he’s always kind of used those grassroots, that grassroots support to really push him through that time period and, you know, different issues, different time, but same kind of political considerations.

CHAKRABARTI: I see. So, you know, Professor Cortina a little earlier said that there’s a lot of different sort of factions within the Texas GOP itself. How much would you say that Paxton’s sort of hard right-wing stance and his support of Donald Trump, how much did that play into him winning reelection as attorney general?

GOLDENSTEIN: Right? Yeah, I think that definitely plays into it. I mean, there was some question at the beginning of the primary whether Trump would endorse him versus some of the other candidates. You know, Matt mentioned Congressman Louie Gohmert was in the race, but he did end up getting the endorsement. And I think that did speak volumes to that partnership, you know, lasting even through some of these legal troubles.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So, Professor Cortina, let me turn back to you, because I wanted Taylor to sort of walk us through, you know, that brief timeline of Paxton’s political career in Texas, because, you know, you mentioned that there’s quite an interesting texture within the Texas GOP that maybe nationally, nationally, we don’t recognize. So just staying with the sort of Trumpist part of the Texas GOP for a moment, I mean, how influential would you say that those quote-unquote, grassroots Trump supporters are within the Texas Republican Party itself?

CORTINA: Well, I think, you know, it depends where you look at the state. And there are going to be parts of the state that are going to be more likely to support that type of grassroots movement, you know, the Republican MAGA movement. But in other parts of the state, are not as enthused as you know, especially when we’re talking about, for example, very particular part of the electorate.

In past elections, we have seen especially suburban voters not really supporting comparable rates, voting for Republicans, especially those Republicans that deeply aligned with the MAGA movement with President Trump. And then you have, you know, the narrative that we have seen, especially in the 2012 election, right? The inroads that supposedly the Republican Party was making in South Texas, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. And we saw, you know, a mixed bag of results.

You saw Henry Cuellar winning once again. You saw Vicente Gonzalez defeating Mayra Flores by down there in McAllen. And then you see Monica De La Cruz in the heavily redrawn district, winning for the first time or became the first Republican to win the 15th congressional district. So it depends how you look at the situation, how you peel the onion. But at the end, I think that MAGA support in Texas is going to be regionally located and obviously very well segmented within the electorate.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, it’s interesting because I think oftentimes, we see with voters voting one way, you know, sort of locally. But then voting another way nationally or even at the state level, because as I look at how Texas has voted for statewide offices, you know, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, you’ve got Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton. So is there a reason why it seems that the sort of Trump supporting aspect of the Texas GOP has what seems to be a pretty firm grip on statewide offices?

CORTINA: I mean, yes and no. And everything comes down to turn out at the end. The state is changing, demographically speaking, especially, you know, population growth in the state of Texas is driven by Latinos. Latinos … I would say Latinos vote both Democrats and Republicans, it’s just not something very homogeneous, it’s more heterogeneous in terms of their support. However, we have seen also that Latinos, even though that they might vote Republican, they tend to lean Democrat.

And I think that for many of them, as we hear just a few moments ago, that type of MAGA Republicanism doesn’t fare well. So the question here is for Republicans looking forward, not just the next election cycle. But looking forward, is should we rebrand our party in terms of accommodating those demographic groups that are significantly growing in the state? And historically, Texas has been a one-party state. We had Democrats dominating state politics for more than 100 years after Reconstruction.

1994 was the last time we had a Democratic governor. … And then the last Democrat elected to office … quit in December 1997. So it’s a cycle. And I think that this might be the beginning of a cycle of seeing those fractures and the growing pains of the Republican Party trying to react to changing demographics.

CHAKRABARTI: So you’re not necessarily saying, though, that this is a cycle in which things might swing back to the Democrats, but rather sort of a reassessment of what the Texas GOP wants to be. Is that right?

CORTINA: A little bit of both. Because on the other hand, you have Democrats that also have to start thinking about these internal fights that we see in the Republican Party. We also see them in the Democratic Party. We saw, for example, very interesting races in 2022. … We see traditional Democrats versus more progressive Democrats. The House of Representatives here in Texas has new blood of more progressive Democrats. So is also an internal realignment and looking into the future of where each of these political parties have to reposition themselves so they can be attractive to voters.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, then, in that case, I mean, given the importance of Texas nationally, this does seem to be quite a compelling moment to understand what’s happening there on the ground politically. Do you see any relationship to this sort of realignment or reconsideration going on within the Texas GOP and even the Democratic Party, as you said? Any relationship between that and, you know what might be happening with the parties nationally?

CORTINA: Well, I think there is an interaction there, where a two-way causation or chicken or egg type of question. So we have seen over the past years the nationalization of local politics. So local politics or state politics reflect to a huge extent what’s happening in the nation overall. And then those national politics are fed by what’s happening at the state level.

So I think that we have seen that, we have seen in the House of Representatives, in Congress. We have seen that very clearly. You have the Ocasio-Cortez type of Democrats versus more traditional Democrats. In the Senate, we have seen not so much different movement, but obviously we have seen, you know, Senator Manchin trying to move to more conservative side, other senators pushing the other way around. So I think everything is something bad, you know, started at least at the national level with the Tea Party movement back in 2009 and now is moving forward slowly and taking different avenues to try to collide. Where are we going in terms of political parties?

CHAKRABARTI: Right. Okay. So Taylor, Professor Cortina mentioning that, you know, we still have a lot of national influence on state and local politics. That brings me back to something you said earlier in the show about former President Donald Trump, who has made comment about Ken Paxton’s impeachment. I mean, how much influence do you think Donald Trump himself could have right now on the process as it moves to the Texas Senate?

GOLDENSTEIN: Right. I mean, I think that’s what makes it so, you know, it made it so amazing that so many Republicans did vote this way because, you know, there’s a very real threat, you know, of going against Trump in Texas. And, you know, some of the further right people in the party have been, you know, threatening primary challenges, obviously, with that many members, you know, going that way, it would be hard to challenge all of them. But it’s not a real threat to their own careers.

CHAKRABARTI: And, you know, Matt said a little earlier that the Texas State Senate is as conservative as it’s ever been. I wanted to check that with your view of the Senate.

GOLDENSTEIN: Yes, I would say they’re definitely more conservative than the House, they’ve always been the more conservative chamber.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So in that case, then, I mean, what can we take from what happened in the House to what might happen in the Senate? Because they’re the ones who are actually going to have to take a guilty or not guilty vote?

GOLDENSTEIN: … I will say that I think that the vote in the House really is telling. And, you know, it exerts more pressure on the Senate than there would have been had it been a modest vote. And I think that’s something that they’re going to take into mind.

CHAKRABARTI: Professor Cortina, I’m wondering, look, it’s a fact that former President Donald Trump basically casts a shadow nationally over everything when we talk about Republicans in the United States. For as long as he is still on the scene, and as of this moment, he’s still the leading contender in the GOP 2024 presidential field. Are we going to be able to really have sort of that clear realignment or reckoning within the Texas GOP itself? Or will that come in whatever direction it might take, after former President Donald Trump exits the scene, whenever that might be?

CORTINA: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, anything can happen, right? I mean, in terms of, you know, Trump’s influence in Texas, yes, indeed. Trump especially in urban areas, in big cities, big metro areas here in Texas, he’s not very popular. The veiled threat that he launched before the impeachment vote didn’t sway a lot of conservatives to not impeach Paxton. So once again, the coin is on the air and we just need to wait and see where it lands.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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