It’s a new beginning for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. After a months-long impeachment process, all but two of his fellow Republicans voted to acquit him on all sixteen articles of impeachment. The two senators who did vote with the Democrats to impeach Paxton are pretty far apart on the political spectrum.
What does this trial mean for the future of the Republican Party in Texas?
Matt Langston is a Texas Republican political consultant and joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: To remind folks, Texas has both a Republican-controlled House and Senate. The House voted to impeach Paxton while Republican senators overwhelmingly acquitted him. Does sound to me like we’ve got quite a rift there at the Texas Capitol building. How big is that rift?
Matt Langston: Oh, the rift is significant. You’re going to see the result of the impeachment trial play out in elections in the near future.
And so you have on the far right of the ideological spectrum a lot of House members and the majority of the Senate who voted to keep Paxton in office. And then you have a conglomerate of Republicans that, on one charge or another, have taken the stand against him. And so you’re going to see that play out significantly over the course of the next several months.
Well, one thing I think we heard repeatedly from Ken Paxton’s defense team was the charge that those coming after Ken Paxton, who had R’s by the side of their name were “Republicans in name only” – RINOs, I think is the term that’s used. What about those House Republicans who voted to impeach? Are they going to be branded in this upcoming election cycle?
Look, I think there will be an attempt. There was an enormous amount of money spent on both sides – those in favor of Paxton and those against him leading into this trial, putting a ton of pressure on the senators that were going to take that vote.
The real issue, though, is that it is very hard to go out there and message that any Republican who voted to impeach is a “Republican in name only.” A lot of them have really strong conservative records. And so you’re going to see it. It will be very hard to label them as moderates or even liberal Republicans. And so, again, it’s political rhetoric that’s happening right now.
But ultimately, these members will go and face voters back in their own districts. I think that’s going to be hard for that to stick.
But I can see the ads now, right? I mean, here we are coming up on 2024. I can imagine that House Republicans trying to ward off challengers, there are going to be ads out there. And Paxton will be used as a kind of a focal point now.
Without a doubt. You’re already seeing this happening right now all throughout the state. You’ve got primary challengers that are putting their opponents right next to the 61 Democrats in the House. You will see this over and over again because it helps crystallize with voters.
It’s a very simplistic message and it’s one that if you’re running, if you’re challenging a sitting incumbent, it’s a message that is going to be very memorable. And this is unchartered territory. We’ve never seen this happen in Texas politics, at least at this level. And so it’s completely unchartered territory for anyone facing a challenger.
Now, I want to ask you about those two Republican senators I mentioned that voted for some articles of impeachment. Kelly Hancock and Robert Nichols are on opposite sides of the conservative spectrum in some ways. What do you make of their votes?
Look, I think this was a very personal vote.
Many of the members in the Senate, they had to look at it and say “I am casting a vote that holds to the external pressures of this office.” And it’s not necessarily their constituents. And so it’s hard to really paint in a very broad brush exactly how they were viewing the different votes because it wasn’t always consistent.
So it’s hard to label either one of them as a moderate or as the one who’s selling out the party.