Last week I wrote of the split within the Texas Republican Party between the “Paxton Republicans” and the “Bush Republicans,” also called “Establishment Republicans,” “Country Club Republicans,” “Chamber of Commerce Republicans,” and “RINOS—Republicans in Name Only.” I said this split may weaken the Republicans’ hold on the Texas state government and even weaken the Republicans at the national level as well. I want to explore in greater detail how the split could do so.
At the state level, the split poses the threat of bitter primary battles in which Paxton supporters attempt to get revenge on state representatives who supported impeachment as well as on statewide officials thought to have been insufficiently pro-Paxton if not outright supporters of impeachment. Paxton himself has raised the possibility of running against John Cornyn in the 2026 GOP Senate primary.
Of course, Paxton and his supporters—and opponents as well–have every right to contest the 2024 and 2026 primaries, but bitter primaries pose two dangers to the GOP: First, they may produce candidates considered too extreme to win general elections, as the GOP primaries in many states did in 2022. Second, the primaries may engender so much bitterness and consume so much in resources that whoever wins them will lack the intra-party goodwill and the resources needed to win the general election anyway. No Democrat has won statewide office since 1994, but the fact that Democrats are frequently able to win voter percentages in the high 40s means they have been coming within striking distance of victory. The weaker the Texas GOP, the easier it will be for Democrats to begin winning statewide and legislative offices again, building and expanding on their current support.
And Democratic victories for state representative may also endanger not only the Republicans in Texas’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, but indeed the House’s Republican majority as well. Ever since the GOP won the trifecta in 2002 for the first time since Reconstruction—capturing not only the state governorship but majorities in both chambers of the state legislature—the Republicans have used their power to draw and redraw congressional district lines to maximize the number of Republicans sent to Washington. Today, 25 of Texas’s U.S. Representatives are Republicans. Texas contributes the largest number of Republicans to the Congress of any state in the union. The capture of any component of the trifecta will break the Republican hold on the redistricting process and give the Democrats the power to push for the creation of more districts which could conceivably elect more Democrats to Congress, thereby reducing the number of Republicans Texas sends to Washington and the size of the Republican majority in the House. Should enough Democrats be elected to the House from Texas, the House Republican majority, small as it is now, could well be eliminated altogether, returning U. S. House control back to the Democrats and a Democratic Speaker.
In fact, it’s conceivable that a major split in the Texas GOP could even weaken Republican efforts to reclaim the White House. The Republicans are weak enough at the national level—only once since 1988 has a Republican presidential nominee been able to win the popular vote, when George W. Bush in 2004, riding the popularity he earned following 9/11, was able to eke out a small popular vote victory as well as win the all-important electoral college majority. The GOP’s other presidential victories—Bush’s victory in 2000 and Donald Trump’s 2016 victory—were due to electoral vote anomalies which allowed Bush and Trump to win the electoral college, and therefore the presidency, while still losing the popular vote.
But Texas, as the largest Republican state, with a bigger share of the electoral vote (40) of any state except California, is the GOP mainstay in national elections. It’s voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980. A weakened state GOP will diminish even more the national party’s chances to reclaim the presidency—a point President Kennedy understood all too well when the Texas Democrats were the dominant party, yet also weakened with internal divisions. In 1960 he won Texas’s electoral vote with only 50.5% of the popular vote, and he believed his chances of winning Texas in 1964 were diminishing because of a split between liberal Democrats, led by then-Senator Ralph Yarborough, and conservative Democrats, led by then-Governor John Connally (who later became a Republican and supporter of Richard Nixon). Kennedy thought the effort to help heal the split within Texas’s Democrats and thereby strengthen his own chances of carrying the state was worth a trip to Dallas in November 1963.
None of this is to say that a feud between pro-Paxton and anti-Paxton Republicans is likely to produce another presidential assassination. But such a feud cannot help but weaken the Republican Party of Texas and its impact on local, state, and national politics. Whatever the relative merits of pro-Paxton and anti-Paxton merits, and regardless of the absolute right of each side to pursue what it considers to be what is best for itself, the party, and the state, everyone should remember that when fights break out within the state GOP, the only guaranteed winners are the Democrats.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton from 1987 until 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.