early and often

The Bush Political Dynasty Ends With a Whimper

It was no contest in the battle to become the GOP nominee for attorney general in Texas. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

For George P. Bush, the one-time golden boy of Texas politics, running for state attorney general after serving two terms as land commissioner shouldn’t have been too much of a reach. This son of Jeb and Columba Bush, with movie-star looks and Latino heritage, had managed to become the one member of his family who got along with the new ruler of the Republican Party, Donald Trump. The incumbent, moreover, Ken Paxton, had become the most frequently indicted and investigated elected official in Texas, making him an ostensibly soft target.

But after Bush forced Paxton into a runoff in a March 1 primary, it was all downhill for the dynastic heir to two U.S. presidents and governors of Texas and Florida. Paxton crushed Bush by a 68-32 margin, making the loser a potential political has-been at the ripe old age of 46. In the end, Paxton’s high name ID from being in the headlines so often, and his backing from Donald Trump, mattered most. Efforts by Bush and two other vanquished primary rivals to make Texans ashamed of Paxton’s scandal-ridden tenure seem to have just reinforced his self-image as a MAGA outsider being persecuted for his righteousness, just like the twice-impeached 45th president.

As the Texas Tribune explained on the eve of Paxton’s huge victory, Bush had a lot of material to work with in labeling his opponent a “philandering felon”:

Paxton was indicted for felony securities fraud charges several months after he first became attorney general in 2015. In 2020, the FBI began investigating him over claims by former deputies that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Bush has said the legal issues make Paxton unfit for office and could risk the important seat for Republicans in November. And he has increasingly attacked Paxton over an even more personal issue: an extramarital affair that he reportedly had that is connected to the FBI probe.

Separately, Paxton is openly feuding with the state bar, which is suing him over his lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in four battleground states.

This last scandal is the gift to Paxton that keeps on giving. In MAGA-land, Paxton’s lead role in the most audacious effort to reverse the 2020 election results (joined by 16 other Republican attorneys general) is legal tender. It had zero legal merit, as his persecutors in the Texas Bar keep pointing out, but few Republican voters cared so long as he fought the good fight for Trump. For his part, Paxton ran ads calling his runoff opponent “liberal Land Commissioner George P. Bush,” presumably trading on conservative mistrust of the candidate’s father, uncle, and grandfather.

And in the end, there seemed to be little left of the positive part of the family legacy in Texas Republican politics. Paxton won over 70 percent of the vote in the West Texas counties where the transplanted Yankee George H.W. Bush got his start in the oil business, and in Harris County, which Poppy once represented in Congress. He even got two-thirds of the vote in the county that contains George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch. The only major county George P. Bush won was the liberal enclave of Travis (Austin). Maybe he can make a political comeback there.

The Bush Political Dynasty Ends With a Whimper