By Ross Ramsey
The Republican primary for governor is probably over, before it ever really started.
Greg Abbott already won the supporter who really counts, having converted his current tight focus on conservative populist issues into a Donald Trump endorsement that removes any threat from the likes of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Republican Party of Texas Chair Allen West, or former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas.
Intentional or not — did you really think Abbott was ad-libbing? — the governor ended a conservative legislative session by snagging the Trump golden ticket that’s preemptive in the Republican primary. Now he’s adopted the former president’s pet project of a wall separating the United States and Mexico, and Trump is coming to Texas next week for a border tour with Abbott.
Good news for Greg Abbott. Bummer for everybody else. He’s got the lucky charm that can ward off attacks from the right — threats that were accumulating a year ago, when Abbott was issuing unpopular pandemic orders to close certain businesses, wear masks and remain at a distance to flatten COVID-19’s curve.
The opponents, none of them especially formidable but most of them worthy of attention, started to line up.
Miller never said in public that he would challenge the governor, though at least one outside group, calling itself the Conservative Republicans of Texas, was encouraging him to jump in and Miller was saying Abbott “cannot get reelected in the general election.” And he and West were outside the Governor’s Mansion last October, manning the bullhorns and protesting Abbott’s emergency responses to the pandemic. After some thought, and that Trump endorsement, Miller now says he will be running for reelection.
West resigned from his party post and hasn’t said whether he plans to run for office — or which office he might covet. But with Trump hugging the incumbent, it’s hard to see where West might be looking for votes; his potential audience is listening to someone else.
Huffines is still in, with some personal money but little in the way of visible political support. He needs Texas voters more than they seem to need him. He’ll recognize that line, maybe, after telling WFAA-TV on Sunday that he wants to close the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m going to communicate to Mexico, and they know it, they need us a lot more than we need them, and this is a proven tactic that can work,” Huffines said. He’s still pushing Trump themes, especially with his talk of an “invasion” on the border — a word Abbott has also adopted — and with his claim that Abbott is stealing some of his ideas.
Maybe, but that’s how it goes in politics, and Abbott is no slacker. He wants a wall between here and Mexico. Unlike Huffines, he’s got the Trump seal of approval and will, in about a week, have TV footage with the former president on the border.
It’s not the only Texas GOP contest where the man from Mar-a-Lago gets to make a decisive call. Look at the race for attorney general.
Ken Paxton, the Republican incumbent, sought favor as one of the pre-insurrection speakers at a Trump event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. He’s been under indictment on securities fraud charges for six years — through a reelection cycle in 2018 — and is under investigation after several top lawyers in his state agency accused him of using that office for the benefit of a political donor. Even so, he’s still the one to beat.
But Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose father Jeb was emasculated by Trump in the 2016 presidential primary, sought the former president’s blessing for his challenge to Paxton.
Trump hasn’t picked a favorite, which is good news for Bush. But when he does, it has a good chance of deciding the race.
Eva Guzman, who quit the Texas Supreme Court to join that race, hasn’t yet made a play for Trump’s favor, relying so far on the support of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a Republican-leaning political group that signals a candidate’s establishment ties. That amounted to more formidable backing in Texas politics 20 years ago, before Republican tastes turned to Trump. If Paxton’s troubles catch up with him, she could advance, but that’s the funny thing about the 2022 Republican primaries.
They could well be decided by a non-Texan who won’t be on the ballot.