Trump's Texas endorsement boosts a scandal-plagued incumbent while imperiling a political dynasty

Trump's Texas endorsement boosts a scandal-plagued incumbent while imperiling a political dynasty
© Greg Nash

In the spring 2022 Texas Republican primaries, the marquee event will be the Texas attorney general race. Three top-tier Republicans are competing: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Pivotal in this contest is the endorsement of the politician who enjoys the highest approval rating among Texas Republicans: former President Trump. Trump’s endorsement Monday of Paxton shored up the reelection hopes of the Texas GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent and potentially sounded a death knell for the candidacy of Bush, and in doing so may end, at least for the time being, a four-generation political dynasty that includes two presidents, a governor and a U.S. senator.

In the aftermath of Trump’s endorsement, the odds-on favorite to be the Texas Republican Party’s attorney general candidate in November 2022 is: under indictment for three felony counts of state securities fraud; the target of an FBI inquiry into whistleblower claims that he broke the law while attorney general to aid a major donor; the subject of a professional misconduct investigation by the Texas Bar Association for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election; alleged to have had a recent extramarital affair; tied to some questionable land deals in Collin County while representing the county in the Texas House and Senate. 

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Paxton was first elected as Texas attorney general in 2014 and was reelected in 2018. While Paxton, like all other statewide Republicans in 2014, defeated his Democratic rival by a substantial margin, 21 percentage points, in 2018 he won by a much narrower margin (four points), the second smallest of any statewide Texas Republican, after U.S. Senator Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails The Memo: Like the dress or not, Ocasio-Cortez is driving the conversation again Ocasio-Cortez defends attendance of Met Gala amid GOP uproar MORE, who defeated Beto O’Rourke by three points. Prior to being attorney general, Paxton served as a Texas state senator and state representative.

Paxton presents himself as one of President Trump’s most loyal supporters in Texas. In addition to his visible and vocal support for Trump throughout his presidency, Paxton led the unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the presidential election results in four key battleground states won by Biden and was a speaker at Trump’s “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, only hours before Trump supporters from that rally stormed the U.S. Capitol. On Monday, Trump rewarded Paxton’s undying loyalty with what is arguably the most coveted endorsement in existence, at least within the Texas GOP.

Bush was first elected to the post of Texas general land commissioner in 2014 and was reelected in 2018. Like Paxton he defeated his Democratic rival by a large margin in 2014 (26 points), but unlike Paxton did not come close to losing in 2018, winning by 11 points.

Bush is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush and grandson of former President George H.W. Bush. His tenure as land commissioner has been relatively uneventful, with the exception of on-going criticism of his conservatorship of The Alamo by many conservatives and recent critiques that his actions have resulted in the coastal counties that were hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey not receiving anywhere near their fair share of federal recovery funds.

Despite the myriad Trump attacks on his extended family, Bush pragmatically supported Trump both in 2016, when he was the lead fundraiser for Texas Republicans’ statewide campaign, and 2020, when he endorsed Trump. Bush fiercely competed with Paxton for Trump’s endorsement, only to have his hopes dashed.

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It is difficult to see a viable pathway forward for his candidacy, especially since many Texas Republicans who disagree with Paxton’s politics, consider Paxton to be an embarrassment and/or believe Paxton could cost the GOP the attorney general race in 2022 have lined up behind former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Guzman was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by former Gov. Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' MORE in 2009, and was the state’s first Latina Supreme Court justice. She went on to win reelection by large margins in 2010 (34 points) and in 2016 (27 points). In June she resigned in order to run for attorney general. Prior to her arrival on the Texas Supreme Court, Guzman served as a Texas appellate court justice and district court judge. She is supported by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the most consequential donor in Texas politics for more than a decade, as well as multiple other high-profile Texas GOP donors.

Guzman did not actively seek Trump’s endorsement in the same aggressive way as Paxton and Bush, but at the same time said she would welcome it, and has not expressed criticism of the former president.

In sum, Trump’s endorsement of Paxton represents a massive boost to the attorney general’s reelection efforts, cementing his status as the odds-on favorite to capture the GOP nomination in the spring.

In contrast, Bush’s failure to obtain Trump’s endorsement has wounded his campaign, perhaps mortally, with the grandson and nephew of two former presidents potentially headed for a third-place finish in the Republican primary. 

In addition to Paxton supporters, the group of Texans most enthused by Trump’s endorsement of Paxton are Texas Democrats. They view Paxton as the weakest member of the Texas GOP statewide herd, and the candidate who provides Texas Democrats with their best chance in 2022 of ending the party’s 26-year statewide losing streak.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today.” Follow him on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX.