Trump, Paxton, Abbott Face Setback in Texas Speaker’s Race

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Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan Triumphs in GOP Primary, Defying Paxton and Trump

In a stunning upset, incumbent Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has emerged victorious in the Republican primary runoff election, despite facing a concerted challenge from anti-establishment forces led by Attorney General Ken Paxton and former President Donald Trump.

A Pivotal Battle

The Phelan-Covey race was widely viewed as a proxy battle for the future of the Texas GOP, pitting the party’s traditional leadership against a more populist and Trump-aligned faction. Phelan, a moderate Republican backed by the old guard, found himself in the crosshairs of Paxton, who had sought payback for Phelan’s role in impeaching him over corruption charges last year.

Paxton’s ally, Trump, endorsed Phelan’s challenger, David Covey, buoying his campaign with a powerful endorsement. Meanwhile, Governor Greg Abbott, seeking revenge for Phelan’s defeat of his education plan, also targeted the House Speaker.

Internal Power Struggle

Phelan’s victory is seen as a significant setback for the anti-establishment forces within the Texas Republican Party. Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based Republican strategist, characterized the race as a “power play” for the “heart and soul” of the party, with Abbott seeking legislators who would support his agenda.

For Paxton and his allies, Phelan’s defeat was seen as a way to remove the person who had led the impeachment against Paxton and thwarted Patrick’s agenda in the State Senate.

Phelan’s Victory: Old vs. New

Phelan’s backing came from “old guard Republicans” and conservative business leaders, while Covey drew support from Patrick, Paxton, and the far right. Had Phelan lost, he would have become the first Texas House speaker to be ousted in a primary in over 50 years.

Phelan’s victory underscores the continued strength of the traditional Republican establishment in Texas, even as the party grapples with the rise of more populist and conservative voices. It also suggests that despite Trump’s influence, the state’s voters remain pragmatic and value experience and leadership.

Abbott’s Mixed Fortunes

While Phelan’s victory was a blow to Paxton and Trump, it was also a mixed result for Governor Abbott. While he failed to eliminate a political opponent, he succeeded in consolidating enough support in the legislature to pass his school choice initiative.

In his statement following the primary, Abbott acknowledged that Republicans “did not win every race we fought in,” but celebrated the legislature’s new “school choice” majority.

The Phelan-Covey race and its aftermath offer a glimpse into the shifting dynamics within the Texas Republican Party, as traditionalists and populists continue to vie for the party’s future. Phelan’s victory and the legislature’s newfound support for school choice suggest that the old guard remains firmly in control, at least for now.