TEXAS VIEW: Texas GOP ‘civil war’ after Paxton verdict isn’t good for state, party

THE POINT: A split GOP is useless, unfocused, and accomplishes little.

The Texas Republican Party has been at war with itself for years, waging battles large and small, consequential and petty. The split over Attorney General Ken Paxton spilled it all into the open.

But just because the House voted to impeach Paxton and the Senate voted to acquit him, it doesn’t follow that the GOP, which runs everything at the statewide level, should fight indefinitely. But there are some, inside and outside the tent, encouraging just that.

By Saturday, Sept. 16, as senators began to vote on Paxton’s fate, it had become clear that there aren’t just Republicans who think he’s guilty and those who think he’s innocent. There are many who obsess over grievances against what they believe are corrupt federal institutions and there are some who don’t — and they prefer to expend their energy elsewhere. These differences have become all-consuming, in part because of the towering figure they involve, and they ensure the Republican party will remain less effective.

That figure himself, Donald Trump, magnified the fractured nature of the GOP when he took credit for helping Paxton get acquitted. On his Truth Social site Monday, Sept. 18, Trump wrote that he used the platform to save Paxton “from going down at the hands of Democrats and some Republicans, headed by PAUL RINO (Ryan), Karl Rove, and others, almost all of whom came back to reason when confronted with the facts.”

If Trump was involved in some way, that’s inexcusable. He has no business even attempting to interfere in such an important, sober, state-centered matter. And his argument that Ryan, the former U.S. House speaker, and Rove, who did more to build the Texas GOP’s dominance than almost anyone, were part of a cabal against Paxton is, as usual, paranoid and fact-free.

Still, his post is a reminder that the Texas Republican Party embraces Trump and Trumpism, obsessing over one man who still can’t acknowledge 2020 election results and embraces whatever positions are the most convenient to get elected (or re-elected). Trump’s insistence that only he can convey to Congress and the world the everyday concerns of the Everyman, including Texans, while himself living in a vortex of lies, deceit, machinations, and indictments is hypocritical, immoral, and ineffectual. This form of populism must be rejected.

The two factions of the Republican Party, the grassroots most personified by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the more traditional conservatives aligned with House Speaker Dade Phelan, have always been rivals. But when Trump entered politics, it increased tenfold. Now, in Texas, there are only Democrats, Republicans for Trump, and Republicans who never want Trump to hold office again. (Sorry, Libertarians.)

Following the acquittal, Patrick gave a 10-minute speech describing what he thought about the entire process. He scolded the House on how quickly it sent over articles of impeachment. He also called for amending the Texas Constitution on impeachment to require that testimony in a House investigation be under oath, and “the target must be allowed to be present with a lawyer to cross examine the witnesses,” two frequent complaints from Paxton’s defenders.

He also recommended giving the House two weeks to review any future impeachment-related evidence before voting next time. And on Monday, Sept. 18, he requested a full financial audit of the impeachment proceedings. It’s good to learn lessons about the process, but do we need to look back on this and have more House-Senate bickering?

Patrick and Phelan have continued to trade barbs, though, and House Republicans who voted for impeachment can count on vigorous primary challenges.

Matt Rinaldi, the chairman of the state party, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the Paxton acquittal: “The Texas House needs new leadership that will (1) stop the GOP civil war @DadePhelan started and (2) end the absurd practice of sharing power with Democrats. Texas Republicans are united for 2024. We invite House Republicans to join the team.”

Rinaldi is right that a civil war is bad for the GOP, but he’s incorrect to observe that Texas Republicans are united or that the only way to do so is to support MAGA conservatives, which he does. This is neither conservatism nor right, morally or politically.

True conservatism embraces individual freedom, personal and fiscal responsibility, rule of law, human dignity, free markets, and a limited government. True conservatism is an idea based on a set of principles, not a person, and certainly not one who continually abuses power, whether that be Trump, Paxton, or anyone else.

There is a time for everything — there is even a time for internal fights, especially if it purges one side of harmful or petty influences. But an indefinite war does the GOP no good.

It’s unfortunate that the Senate failed to remove Paxton. But it’s time for Republicans to focus where they agree and govern for the benefit of all Texans.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram