In some respects, the endorsement of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s reelection bid by Donald Trump was a non–news event. Paxton is a reliable MAGA soldier who launched the monumentally dumb lawsuit Trump hoped would overturn the 2020 election results in four close Biden-won states (which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in December on the rather obvious grounds that Texas has no standing to challenge the interpretation of state election laws by other states). He also spoke at the infamous January 6 rally headlined by Trump that incited the Capitol riot. The fact that Paxton has also been dogged by corruption charges is not the sort of thing that would trouble the 45th president.
But the endorsement is getting headlines in Texas and nationally because of the Paxton rival Trump passed over: Land Commissioner George P. Bush, famously the only member of his political dynasty that Trump doesn’t intensely dislike. There’s even a Trump quote to back up that assessment, which George P. featured at his first campaign event in June:
Bush the Younger was actually endorsed by Trump for reelection as land commissioner in 2018 (in what was presumed to be a reciprocal gesture for Bush’s endorsement of Trump in the 2016 general election, when no one else in his family would offer it), so the idea that he could snag another seal of approval wasn’t out of the question. But Paxton’s superior service to the cause apparently could not go unrewarded.
Paxton’s campaign will ensure every single Texas Republican knows about Trump’s “Complete and Total Endorsement,” as he characteristically put it. But the bigger question is whether Trump will make any personal effort on his behalf beyond the formal nod. Paxton is in trouble thanks to a pending indictment (which he has been fighting in state courts) based on whistleblower allegations from his own staff members (whom Paxton subsequently fired) that he provided official favors to a donor who did free work on the AG’s house and gave a job to an alleged Paxton paramour. The FBI is investigating him for a possible federal-corruption and abuse-of-power indictment arising from the same accusations.
Paxton is an old pro at using ideology to (no pun intended) trump questions about his integrity; he was under indictment on felony state-securities fraud charges (first brought by a grand jury in 2015) when he was reelected in 2018 with Trump’s backing. He is still under that indictment, though he has succeeded repeatedly in postponing a trial.
The incumbent’s issues attracted not just Bush but also former Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman to a primary challenge this year. The land commissioner, of course, has his own largely positive Texas “brand,” along with access to serious money. Yes, Bush and Guzman could split the anti-Paxton primary vote, but Texas’s majority-vote requirement for nominations means one of them could force a runoff. If the GOP contest gets really nasty and divisive, there is a credible Democratic candidate (former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski, grandson of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski) who could take advantage of the rift in a state that is trending purple.
Another thing to watch is whether the Democratic-led investigation of January 6 will cast a more lurid light on Paxton’s involvement in inciting an insurrection — or, conversely, whether it will help him among Republicans who are mostly treating it as a partisan witch hunt. The AG is already under investigation by the Texas Bar Association for his conduct on January 6, and of course, he is fighting that inquiry in court as unconstitutional. The Lone Star State’s chief law-enforcement officer sure is spending a lot of time in court fighting off personal problems and asserting his Trumpiness. His fate in 2022 may tell whether that’s what Texans want.
Meanwhile, George P. Bush (the son of Jeb and Columba Bush), once regarded as his family’s next dynastic threat for the highest of offices, really needs to knock off Paxton. If Paxton convinces Trump to go negative on the scion of Texas’s two most recent presidents, then George P. could become either more MAGA roadkill or a surviving symbol of a post-Trump GOP, if that ever arrives.