The Texas Republican Party is going through an evolution of sorts. Texas GOP Chair Allen West recently resigned after less than a year in the position; a Republican won a mayoral race in the Rio Grande Valley; Greg Abbott is facing challengers from his own party in the upcoming gubernatorial primary and more.
Two Texas politics experts joined Texas Standard to break down recent events shaping the party, and what they might mean for the GOP’s future: Rebecca Deen, University of Texas at Arlington’s political chair; and Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston.
Fort Worth Mayoral Election
On Saturday, voters elected Mattie Parker, former chief of staff for outgoing Mayor Betsy Price. Deen says Parker, a Republican, was the clear winner. Between she and her challenger, Democrat Deborah Peoples, Deen says the candidates had “really different visions for the city.”
McAllen Mayoral Race
Republican Javier Villalobos beat Democrat Veronica Whitacre for mayor of McAllen. Rottinghaus says Whitacre’s loss should be a signal to Democrats that more needs to be done to turn out voters. It was Democrats’ election to lose, he says, because Joe Biden won there in November by such a large margin.
Rottinghaus says Villallobos’ win could attract more attention and investment from the national GOP to try to flip more seats in the Rio Grande Valley.
“To lose this mayoral election is really a kind of shock, I think, to the kind of political well-being of the Democrats there,” he said. “If Democrats can’t rally the horses, then it’s going to be a real problem for them in 2022.”
Allen West’s Resignation
The Texas GOP chair resigned Friday after less than a year in office. Deen says West, a QAnon-friendly, former Florida congressman, won election last year in a moment when Texas Republicans thought he could energize the more conservative wing of the party and raise money.
Deen argues West achieved the party’s objectives during his tenure. Rottinghaus, on the other hand, says he didn’t raise as much money as promised, nor did he “lift the profile of the Republican Party.”
Both say West’s stint was a stepping stone to a bigger political career. Since his resignation, West has said he’s considering running for statewide office, potentially for governor.
Rottinghaus says West’s departure leaves the Texas GOP “rudderless” and at a crossroads.
“The problem is that they are split between tone and tactic. Tonally, they want to be more like Donald Trump; they want to be big, they want to make very ambitious, conservative choices. But it’s structurally, administratively, they still have to have the lights on,” he said. “And so the Republicans have really got to figure out where they’re going and who is the best person to lead them.”
Upcoming Gubernatorial Primary
Gov. Greg Abbott is already facing one challenger in the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary. Former state Sen. Don Huffines has announced he will run against Abbott. And now, Abbott could also face Allen West. Both are likely to appeal to more conservative Republicans who’ve been disappointed, even angry, about Abbott’s handling of the pandemic. But those voters may not be completely lost to Abbott, since Donald Trump recently endorsed him.
Upcoming Attorney General Race
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush recently announced he will challenge Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2022. Rottinghaus says Bush is also trying to appeal to voters who supported former President Trump by distancing himself from the Bush name. The Bush brand of Republicanism is far more moderate than today’s Republican Party. Still, Rottinghaus says Bush’s “deep roots” in Texas should mean he’ll have no problem raising money for his campaign.
He expects the race to be contentious, with each candidates’ weaknesses used against them. Paxton is currently facing indictments, an FBI investigation and a whistleblower lawsuit.
“This is definitely going to be an ugly race. It’s going to be all of the warts exposed within the Republican Party. It’s going to be a lot of mud-throwing between Paxton, who’s got his own ethical problems, and Bush, who’s had some issues as land commissioner,” Rottinghaus said.
It could also be a bellwether for Trump’s role in the Texas GOP.
“It’s going to give us a pretty clear picture about where the Republican Party is going,” he said. “If Donald Trump’s endorsement of one of these two candidates is the determining factor, then it will, I think, be very illustrative of exactly where the party’s core is.”