Greg Abbott Loses, Then Wins, Endorsement From Texas Attorney General
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) got an endorsement Tuesday from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for the 2022 governor’s race after The New York Timesquoted Paxton saying he didn’t support Abbott, in the latest occurrence of Texas Republicans publicly criticizing each other.
In a sprawling New York Times story about the contentious state of Republican politics in the state of Texas, Paxton was asked whether he would support Abbot after his controversial handling of Covid-19 restrictions and early voting.
“The way this typically works in a primary, is it’s kind of everybody running their own race,” Paxton responded. “I don’t think he supports me; I don’t support him.”
After the story was published, Paxton— a vehement supporter of former President Donald Trump— claimed it was “fake news” and offered a full-throated endorsement of Abbott.
“Fake news [New York Times] strikes again! Let me be clear: I support [Greg Abbott]! He’s a great Governor and a Great Texan,” Paxton tweeted Tuesday; Forbes reached out to The New York Times for comment.
While Abbott’s standing with Republicans seems strong—an April Texas Tribune poll found his approval rating among Republicans to be 77%—it’s more than 10 points lower than it was at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic (88% in April 2020).
In 2018, Abbott refused to say if he voted for Paxton in the Republican primary elections.
Paxton will likely face a primary challenge in 2022 by a familiar name in Texas politics; Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said he’s “seriously considering” a run.
With Abbott at the helm, Texas has enforced more relaxed Covid-19 restrictions than many states, but several Texas Republicans have criticized Abbott’s decisions during the pandemic. Texas GOP Chair Allen West and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sued Abbott in September for extending early voting periods due to Covid-19. At the time, West said he opposed “extension of early voting through the decree of a single executive.” The Texas Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit and Texans had six extra days of early voting in the 2020 election. Neither West nor Miller have ruled out a 2022 run for governor. When Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate and allowed businesses to reopen at full capacity in March, state Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) told the Texas Tribune, “There’s no doubt people are gonna wish it had come sooner,” and Paxton told The New York Times he wished Abbott reopened businesses and lifted the mask mandate “a little bit earlier.”
Paxton is under a criminal investigation by the FBI over allegations he used his office to benefit a political donor. The Texas attorney general has also been under indictment for over five years on securities fraud allegations, and said in November he knows “a little something about being falsely accused.” Abbott said the FBI investigation raised “serious concerns.”
While Abbott has faced criticism from his right, his biggest election challenge could come from actor Matthew McConaughey. The Texas native said he’s considering a run for governor, and an April Dallas Morning Newspoll found 45% of registered voters in Texas would vote for McConaughey over Abbott. About 30% of Texas Republicans said they’d support the actor over the governor, as well as 44% of independents. McConaughey hasn’t been clear about what his politics are (he’s called himself “aggressively centrist”) but said he was “dumbfounded” when Abbott lifted Texas’ mask mandate.