Mar 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Texas primaries offer peek at GOP ideological battle

A person in Texas is seen preparing to cast a ballot last week.
A person prepares last week to cast a ballot in Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Texas primaries on Tuesday offer opening battles in a wider ideological war for the direction of the Republican Party, specifically the role former President Trump should play in its future.

Why it matters: It’s still eight months until November, but we'll soon have the first glimpse of several important factors for the 2022 midterm cycle: Trump's lasting power, which faction of the Republican Party voters will reward and whether overall turnout reflects future voter enthusiasm or apathy.

  • The former president’s involvement in state and local races reflects his larger '22 midterm strategy: to install loyalists throughout federal and state government, as Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Andrew Solender have reported.

The state of play: Trump is backing Republicans up and down the Texas ballot, from U.S. House to statewide office to state legislature — some in races where you wouldn't normally see buy-in from a former president.

  • He's endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both of whom are facing primary challengers, as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
  • The AG's race is the most interesting: Paxton, who's mired in corruption scandals, faces credible foes in Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.
  • A Nexstar poll of the race had Paxton at 43%, Bush at 20% and Gohmert and Guzman each at 12%. If that matched the results, Paxton and Bush would face each other in a runoff election.

By the numbers: Trump's endorsement appears to be significantly boosting Paxton, but some GOP strategists tell Axios they expect that race will still result in a runoff.

  • Nearly half the respondents in the Nexstar poll say Trump's endorsement makes them more likely to vote for Paxton, while 16% say less likely.
  • By contrast, just 25% say Paxton's indictment for securities fraud makes them less likely to vote for him.

Trump also has made 16 endorsements for U.S. House in Texas — 15 f0r incumbents — but the most interesting races will be where he isn't backing anyone at all:

What's next: Trump's endorsement will be put more to the test elsewhere later this cycle, when his hand-picked insurgents begin to square off against Republican incumbents he's deemed insufficiently loyal.

  • Those include Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the latter two of whom voted for his impeachment.
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