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While We Wait: Will the Texas Senate Capitulate to Paxton's Threats?
It's a watershed moment for the Texas GOP, but not the way you think.
If you’re just joining us and want to experience the many and various terrors of the Paxton impeachment trial, I published two in-progress recaps over the last couple weeks — first one here, second one here. If you’re not, and I’m sure if that’s the case you’re as sorry as I am … read on!
I can’t stop thinking about the big-big picture framing Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial, specifically the simultaneously vicious and petty Republican infighting that has defined not just the proceedings themselves, but the years preceding.
Political pundits and journalists, not all of them writing from the safe distance of a national remove, have wrongly situated Paxton’s impeachment as a MAGA-Texas vs. Standard Republican fight, but there are no Standard Republicans in Texas, at least none left walking the halls of the state Capitol. They all carry water for Trump, and have done since he secured the GOP nomination in 2016. They will still carry water for Trump after this is all over, even after Trump’s sided with Paxton and berated and insulted some of the Lone Star state’s most odious, authoritarian, right-wing shitbags as agents of a ~ liberal ~ Bush family-fueled witch hunt.
In Texas, there is no ideological difference between the craven assholes prosecuting Paxton and the craven assholes defending him. Paxton’s prosecutors want everything Paxton wants — except for Nate Paul to be able to trade favors with the office of the Texas Attorney General. Paxton’s prosecutors want to ban books and ban abortion and drown immigrants in barbed wire in the Rio Grande, even if they have funny facial hair. They are not really upset that Paxton violated the law or got squishy on ethics; they are upset that he did so badly and for the benefit not of a fellow good old boy, but for the benefit of Nate Paul, a garden-variety, Austin-based, apolitical money-grabber.
Both Team Paxton and Team Prosecute Paxton got practically everything they could ever want, in terms of state political power, years ago. Certainly since Trump took the White House, but maybe as long as decades ago. Republicans have had Texas voters in a chokehold since the 90s, and have secured their vice-like grip through voter disenfranchisement and gerrymandering. They have long had carte blanche to spearhead the most right-wing of right-wing policies and initiatives, and they have seized that opportunity with gusto.
It’s not politically head-turning that some Republicans — pundits will call them some version of “establishment” Republicans, but they are Trump Republicans all the same in the year of our Mara Lago Bathroom Confidentiality Terlet 2023 — decided to challenge Ken Paxton’s clumsy, coked-up criminality. What’s head-turning is that they know they can do so and make a good bet that all of their oppressive, authoritarian policy dreams will still come true. The Paxton prosecution may ding some of them, but it won’t ding all of them — and the vast majority are willing to make this gamble.
They had everything politicians could ever want, and yet they still demanded more. They could have kept to themselves; they could have let the feds take care of Paxton and minded their own business. They could have made noises about taxpayers funding Paxton’s whistleblower payout and never lifted a finger beyond. But they know — or at least believe — that they are so powerful, so unassailable, that they can target the Texas Attorney General with impeachment and come out largely unscathed. Texas Republicans became incredibly powerful in the scheme of American state political authority, and what did they do with that blessed assurance? They turned it into a circus of finger-pointing and self-victimization, a he-said/he-said/she-said capitulation to a cult of personality. They got everything a cadre of power-hungry right-wing assholes could ever possibly want, and instead of leveraging it for maximum effectiveness, they let the whole thing devolve into a fight over a skeezy real-estate developer from Austin.
If there is a better example of the unbridled confidence and inadequacy of white male mediocrity, I can’t think of it right now.
Paxton’s defense leaned heavily on threats against the Texas senators who are, at present, deliberating over his guilt or innocence — most especially the threat that, if Paxton is impeached, political witch hunts are coming for anyone who dared challenge Attorney General Daddy. The threat that only thing standing between Texas senators and Paxton’s fate is sixteen wrong votes on the sixteen articles of impeachment against Paxton. The threat that if we’re impeaching everyone who cheats on their husband or wife, then everyone in the Texas Senate is fucked. The threat that if we’re impeaching everyone who has an open-door policy with especially friendly campaign donors, then everyone in the Texas Senate is fucked. The threat that your people might turn on you any minute, just like those RINO whistleblowers. We’re all criminals here, Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee effectively told senators in closing arguments Friday morning, so make sure you’re not next up on the chopping block. Be a shame, really, if something were to happen to the nice shop you’ve got here.
I think, I hope, I pray that this mafia-rules game does not play with the Texas Senate. I believe they see themselves as a reasonable lawmaking body — they aren’t, writ large — but it’s possible. Politicians are fickle creatures of fear. The fact that Texas Republicans do have so much power would, in a world of logic and reasonable thinking, make the Texas Senate do the right thing. But it’s entirely possible that the fear of losing the incredible power Texas Senate Republicans already have, earned through earnest grifting, will cause them to vote the other way — to capitulate to Ken Paxton’s threats and put that power at risk by exposing the delicacy and danger of the perpetual- and imagined-victim mindset that dominates right-wing politics today.
The senate will deliberate until at least 8pm tonight. I’ll be watching. (With whiskey.)
Join Home with the Armadillo readers for live-chats of the Paxton impeachment trial! If the Senate doesn’t return a verdict Friday night, we’ll be live-chatting in whatever cobbled-together state we’re in on Saturday morning.