One underappreciated by-product of the Trump factor in Republican politics is that his preparations for 2024 seem to be making state elected offices that might prove useful for him in promulgating the next Big Lie very attractive to followers who currently hold theoretically “higher” positions. In Georgia, you’ve got Jody Hice giving up a safe congressional seat to act as Trump’s instrument of vengeance against Republican secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. And in Texas, an all-star cast of Republicans is vying for the attorney general gig that has been the leading edge of right-wing litigation for years.
Embattled incumbent Ken Paxton has the priceless Donald Trump endorsement despite a pattern of conduct that has made him not just a prosecutor, but a target of fellow prosecutors. He’s already being challenged by the man with the biggest name in Texas politics, Land commissioner George P. Bush (the one member of his family Trump doesn’t actively hate), along with another creditable candidate, former State Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. And now the wildest of wild men in Texas GOP circles, veteran representative Louie Gohmert, has jumped into the same race, as the Texas Tribune reports:
The race has attracted intense interest due to Paxton’s legal problems, which include a 2015 securities fraud indictment that remains pending. Paxton has also come under FBI investigation over claims by former top staffers that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Gohmert has latched on to those legal issues, warning they could cause Paxton to lose the general election.
In the announcement video, Gohmert called “election integrity” a priority of his campaign.
“Election integrity,” of course, is code for Big Lying. But Gohmert does have quite the pedigree in that department, having offered the late-December 2020 lawsuit (speedily dismissed by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas, leading to an equally speedy refusal to hear Gohmert’s appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court) claiming that Vice-President Mike Pence had the total discretion to choose electors regardless of state certifications or the popular vote. This exceeded in audacity Paxton’s earlier suit (also slam-dunked in the federal courts) seeking to overturn state certifications of electors in four states carried by Joe Biden where the legislatures did not explicitly authorize rules for holding an election in a pandemic.
But Gohmert isn’t some Johnny-come-lately to right-wing extremism. He is in some respects a living link between the worst of the tea party and the present-day excesses of MAGA folk. He was a birther before Trump ever was. And he was certainly a conspiracy theorist of a high order, responsible for the bizarre “terror babies” claim back in 2010, as described by Mother Jones:
[T]his diabolical plan involves terrorists sending pregnant women into the US to birth their America-hating spawns. The mothers and their kids then return home where, the congressman says, the children “could be raised and coddled as future terrorists” — and later, “twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.”
In 2012, he suggested a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, was God’s vengeance against liberals. The lowlights of his career are too frequent to enumerate. And his tendency to take absurd position to absurd lengths might have best been illustrated by his publicly expressed suspicions that he contracted COVID-19 in the summer of 2020 from wearing a mask.
If the AG primary becomes a Trumpier-than-thou competition, Gohmert will probably have an edge despite the 45th president’s endorsement of Paxton. His constituents will probably wonder why a nine-term incumbent House member who is a high-ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee (of more than passing interest to Texas oil and gas interests) is cashing it all in to run for a state office. But Gohmert has ideological allegiances that are far dearer to his heart than routine congressional business, even though his party will likely control the House in 2023. And his participation could make the contest he has entered in Texas not just headline-grabbing and expensive, but a measurement of how far Republicans want to descend into MAGA pathology. It’s certainly great news for the three Democrats running for attorney general.