WASHINGTON — In the hours before the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature voted to impeach fellow Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over the weekend, former President Donald Trump repeatedly took to social media with a warning for anyone — and especially members of his own party — who opposed his longtime ally.
Trump lamented what he called the “very unfair process” used to oust one of the nation's most active state legal officials and vowed that he would "fight" any lawmakers who supported the impeachment.
In the end, a majority of Republicans in the Texas House ignored the admonishments of the former president and party leader and voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton. Of 85 Republicans in the chamber, 60 supported impeachment.
The decision by many Republicans to wave off Trump's warnings fueled questions about his political power in one of the nation's reddest states. The episode comes as the field of candidates entering the race to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination grows.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump vows to ‘fight’ for ally Paxton. Will it matter?
Paxton has been a nationally prominent conservative legal voice for years as well as an ally to Trump. In addition to filing high-profile suits against President Joe Biden over immigration and other issues, Paxton brought an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the 2020 election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The nation's highest court ultimately denied that request in late 2020.
Leading up to Saturday's impeachment, Trump took to his Truth Social platform to slam GOP lawmakers in Texas, encouraging them to let the voters decide Paxton's fate.
“Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed,” he wrote. “I will fight you if it does.”
The former president and other national conservative figures doubled down after the vote as focus in Texas shifted toward a Senate trial. Trump accused Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, of being “MISSING IN ACTION!” during the impeachment fight.
When all politics is both local and national
The battle between Paxton, a Republican former state lawmaker who was elected attorney general in 2014, and the GOP leadership in the Legislature has been driven by state politics and scandal. The attorney general has been caught up in multiple investigations involving allegations of misuse of office and retaliation against whistleblower complaints.
“There’s a lot of history here that’s underneath the surface,” GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak said.
A lot of that history has nothing to do with Trump, Mackowiak said.
Still, Mackowiak said he was “surprised the House vote was so overwhelming” and predicted that the lawmakers “who voted to impeach are going to be on defense on this issue in GOP primaries around the state” next year.
Trump’s performance in last year’s midterm elections was spotty in contested races. Many far-right candidates lost, including Doug Mastriano, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, and Blake Masters, who ran for the Senate in Arizona.
The internecine strife in Texas wasn’t limited to Trump and the state lawmakers. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wrote Saturday on Twitter that the impeachment was a “travesty” and claimed that no other attorney general had “battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously.” Matt Rinaldi, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, thanked Trump and Cruz in a statement for standing against what he called a “sham of an impeachment.”
What happens with Paxton now?
The impeachment, only the third in Texas history and the first in nearly 50 years, removed the 60-year-old attorney general from office pending a trial in the Senate. An interim replacement must be named by Abbott.
The House vote to impeach is analogous to a grand jury indictment in a criminal case. Paxton's permanent removal from office would require a two-thirds vote in the 31-member Senate. Paxton, a former member of the House and the Senate, served alongside 21 current senators.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 19-12. One of the Republican members is Paxton's wife, Sen. Angela Paxton. It's not immediately clear when the Senate will hold the trial. Mackowiak predicted Paxton would survive the trial as long as more state GOP leaders don't step in against him.
“Ultimately, I think removal is unlikely, unless the governor and lieutenant governor both call for it,” he said.
Additional material from the Austin American-Statesman.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Donald Trump couldn't save Ken Paxton from impeachment in Texas.