Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Texas AG Ken Paxton's star rises after acquittal

Ken Paxton

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Far from being a diminished figure, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, freshly acquitted in an impeachment trial, is about to go big.

Why it matters: Paxton, long a relatively modest fundraiser among top statewide elected officials, is in the national spotlight now, his profile among grassroots Republicans enhanced as an embattled, Trump-lite character.

  • Among those congratulating him on his acquittal were U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, conservative activist and talk radio host Charlie Kirk, Trump-aligned former Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake and pro-Trump political consultant ​​Alex Bruesewitz.

The big picture: "He's gone from an obscure attorney general in a state where people don't pay much attention to the office to having a direct line of communication" with key media outlets and conservative voters, Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, tells Axios.

  • "It's gone from the Big 3" — the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, who control legislation — "to the Big 4," Rottinghaus says.

Tune in: Expect to see a lot more of Paxton on conservative media outlets — he's doing a sit-down interview with Tucker Carlson this week.

By the numbers: Paxton had $2.76 million on hand as of campaign finance reports this summer, far less than the $23.29 million in cash that Texans for Abbott reported.

  • But following his impeachment, his campaign raised $1.7 million in less than two weeks when a fundraising freeze lifted and after the regular legislative session ended.

What's next: Paxton, who co-chaired Lawyers for Trump in 2020 and famously filed a dead-end lawsuit seeking to throw out election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin following former President Trump's defeat, could be Trump's running mate — or his attorney general, Rottinghaus says.

  • The U.S. attorney general is a Senate-confirmed position, but political forecasters currently predict the Senate will turn Republican.

Reality check: Paxton has obvious political liabilities. A securities fraud case and a federal investigation into alleged corruption remain very much live wires.

  • And the State Bar of Texas is seeking to sanction Paxton over his 2020 election gambit, which could result in his disbarment.

Plus: Trump will win Texas either way, so there's no real electoral benefit to picking someone from here.

Yes, but: Trump prizes loyalty, and arguably no one has been more loyal to him than Paxton.

What they're saying: Paxton did not respond to an interview request left with his campaign.

  • In a statement after the verdict, Paxton blamed his impeachment on the Biden administration and "liberal" Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, promising to attack Biden's "lawless policies."
  • Trump congratulated Paxton over the weekend on Truth Social, his social media platform, on a "great and historic Texas sized VICTORY" and "his wonderful wife and family for having had to go through this ordeal, and WINNING!"

Bottom line: The impeachment is turning into a very successful proposition for Paxton.

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