The Republican establishment and left-wing progressives notched victories in Tuesday’s Texas primary election.
Texas held 2022’s first primary elections on Tuesday. On the Republican side, more establishment-aligned candidates notched victories in competitive primaries. Progressive Democrats also had a good night. Progressives won or are leading in two open seats and forced a centrist incumbent into a runoff with a left-wing challenger.
- Gov. Greg Abbott (R) comfortably defeated two hard-right primary challengers. Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Trump favorite under multiple corruption investigations, fell well short of a majority and will face TX Land Commissioner George P. Bush in the May runoff election.
- House Republican incumbents had a near-perfect record. Suburban Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX-02) was attacked for his strong statements rebuking the party’s fringe but saw off his challengers easily.
- GOP Rep. Van Taylor (TX-03) abandoned his reelection campaign one day after being forced into a runoff. Taylor apologized for an extramarital affair with a former jihadist that came to light just days before the primary. County judge Keith Self, the runner-up, will automatically become the Republican nominee in the safely Republican metro Dallas district.
- House Republican leadership’s picks for two open seats – veterans Morgan Luttrell and Wesley Hunt – won their primaries outright.
- County judge Nathaniel Moran (R) easily won the race for the East Texas 1st District vacated by controversial Rep. Louie Gohmert (R). Ex-House Speaker John Boehner once said, “Louie Gohmert is insane” and “there’s not a functional brain in there.”
- Three progressives – Greg Casar, Jessica Cisneros and Jasmine Crockett – turned in strong performances in Tuesday’s congressional primaries. Casar won his primary outright while Cisneros and Crockett are headed for runoffs.
- The Intercept profiled Greg Casar, the outspoken democratic socialist who won a commanding victory for the San Antonio-to-Austin 35th District. Casar is a former Austin city councilman who championed defunding the police during his time on council. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) endorsed Casar. He’s expected to join the so-called “Squad” of leftist Congresspeople.
- The Washington Post covered Jessica Cisneros, the 28-year-old immigration lawyer who forced centrist 9-term Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) into a runoff for the second consecutive cycle. Several progressive organizations as well as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backed Cisneros against the longtime incumbent.
- The New York Times had several takeaways. In their estimation, the “right turn” Gov. Greg Abbott took over the last year by pushing new laws on abortion, guns and critical race theory paid off with his easy primary victory. They also observed that all 33 of former president Donald Trump’s endorsements won their races or are leading going into the runoff, but he only endorsed candidates expected to win easily regardless.
- Fox News covered the night’s marquee race, the four-way Republican primary for Texas Attorney General. Trump endorsed Paxton’s bid for a third term, yet Paxton failed to avoid a runoff. Paxton is under multiple corruption investigations and filed the Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit that tried to overturn Biden’s narrow Pennsylvania win.
- The Washington Examiner offered a conservative perspective on the Cuellar-Cisneros race in Texas’s 28th District. Cuellar attacked the left-wing Cisneros as an “extremist,” while the FBI raided Cuellar’s home in January. Whoever wins the runoff will face the winner of the GOP runoff in what’s expected to be a competitive general election.
- National Review’s Dan McLaughlin characterized the Texas Republican primaries as “almost a clean sweep for normal adults.” McLaughlin pointed to Abbott’s landslide win, the victories of three establishment-aligned military veterans – Rep. Dan Crenshaw and his endorsed picks Marcus Luttrell and Wesley Hunt, and George P. Bush pushing “scandal-tarred” AG Ken Paxton into a runoff.
Twelve years ago, the Tea Party movement rocked the Republican establishment. Tea Party-aligned politicians won competitive primaries and rode the backlash against then-President Barack Obama to win a string of victories in the 2010 midterms. The Tea Party vs. “Establishment” divide defined GOP politics in the first half of the 2010s. Texas was no exception. Ted Cruz, once a long shot, harnessed anti-establishment sentiment to win an upset victory over the sitting lieutenant governor in the 2012 GOP primary for US Senate. Tea Party-aligned activists argued – with some justification – that they represented the true base of Republican support more than the establishment.
Today, a different Democratic president is facing a difficult midterm election. While the conditions are similar, Republican politics have transformed since the days of the Tea Party. Tea Party activists morphed into former president Donald Trump’s MAGA movement. The outsiders became the establishment. Ted Cruz and the other leading Tea Party figures – Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson – are now in their second terms and are influential figures in Washington. Republican lawmakers have moved to the right and now align more closely with their base on issues like immigration and abortion.
The first primaries of 2022 illustrated this trend. Gov. Greg Abbott won renomination in a walk against Allen West, a Tea Party icon who first rose to prominence with a shock win in 2010 before flaming out two years later. Every Texas House Republican won renomination, except for one incumbent tarnished by personal scandal. Candidates backed by state House and Senate leadership won nearly every primary for the state legislature.
Up and down the ballot, candidates who proclaimed themselves some variation of “the one true conservative” and attacked their opponents as “RINOs” (Republican in name only) nearly all lost to mainstream conservative candidates. Normal, rank-and-file Republican voters – if last night’s results are any guide – aren’t animated by the purity tests and niche issues that dominate the activist class and the Very Online right. The Texas primary showed the self-proclaimed anti-establishment forces are the ones out of touch with the voters, not mainstream Republicans.
© Dominic Moore, 2022