Is Ken Paxton's acquittal a true victory for Texas Republicans?

Paxton's acquittal has Texas' Senate and House GOP members at odds with each other

Illustration of Ken Paxton, Texas Senate building and state flag
The acquittal of Texas AG Ken Paxton could be the beginning of a larger feud within the Republican Party
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

Texas' Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, was acquitted by the state Senate of 16 charges in his recent impeachment trial, allowing him to keep his job as the top lawyer in the Lone Star State. Paxton had been impeached earlier this year by the Texas House of Representatives based on allegations that he misused his office.

The impeachment was related to accusations from Paxton's own aides that he had participated in "improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses." These allegations later spawned an FBI investigation and led to Paxton's eventual impeachment. 

Notably, the impeachment appeared to split the chambers of Texas' GOP-led legislature down the middle. Paxton was impeached in the House by a 121-23 margin, with 60 Republicans — many of whom make up the party's moderate wing — joining 61 Democrats in voting to impeach. Once the trial reached the Senate, though, the margins were flipped — 16 Republican senators, mostly staunch hardline conservatives, voted to acquit Paxton, with only two GOP senators joining 12 Democrats in voting to convict. This fell short of the 21 total votes needed to remove him from office. But does Paxton staying on as attorney general represent a true victory for Texas Republicans, given the contention between the state's two Republican majorities?

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What are commentators saying?

Most senators voted to acquit because Paxton holds significant popularity among hardline Republican voters, San Antonio-based lawyer Thomas Cullee Mayes Jr. told The Texas Tribune. As a result, it was "very difficult to envision a scenario where the House lawyers, with the evidence they had, could have convinced nine Republican senators to convict," Mayes added. He noted that getting these senators to vote against their own political self-interests would have been an "extremely difficult task," given that most of these senators are further to the right than the House Republicans who impeached Paxton.

However, it is possible that this move to acquit could backfire on Texas Republicans, because the trial was a "demonstration of morbid partisanship," Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told the Tribune. Jillson added that the GOP senators had a "jump ball" and "concluded that their interest was better served by voting to acquit."

Instead of a victorious outcome for the party, the trial could represent the breaking point in a "yearslong struggle among Republican leaders in the legislature over control of the party and the future direction of the state" J. David Goodman wrote for The New York Times. The House's failed attempt to have Paxton removed from office "seemed to suggest that, for now at least, the stridently conservative wing of the party had the upper hand," Goodman added. 

Even the typically conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal opined that it was "now obvious the fix was in from the start," and that the head of the Senate trial, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), had "lobbied his fellow GOP Senators to unite against the House articles of impeachment." Paxton's acquittal is "perhaps a satisfying victory for Mr. Patrick" in the short term, "but it may not play out so well for Texas Republicans in the longer run," the Journal added. 

What's next?

Following his acquittal, Paxton released a statement calling the proceedings a "sham impeachment" from a "kangaroo court." His statement also alleged that the Texas House had coordinated with the Biden administration to have him impeached, though there is no evidence that this occurred. "I can promise the Biden administration the following: buckle up because your lawless policies will not go unchallenged," Paxton said. "We will not allow you to shred the constitution and infringe on the rights of Texas. You will be held accountable."

Both Paxton and Patrick also decried the "weaponization of the impeachment process," with the latter saying the impeachment was an "unprecedented misuse of the process" and pressing for "a full audit of all taxpayer money spent by the House from the beginning of their investigation in March to today."

In the end, though, the final say will come from Texas voters in 2024. Paxton is "likely to use his substantial campaign war chest to settle political scores," The Dallas Morning News reported, and he is now "the conduit for a political fight that’s been raging for years in the Republican Party."

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Justin Klawans

Justin Klawans is a staff writer at The Week. Based in Chicago, he was previously a breaking news reporter for Newsweek, writing breaking news and features for verticals including politics, U.S. and global affairs, business, crime, sports, and more. His reporting has been cited on many online platforms, in addition to CBS' The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

He is also passionate about entertainment and sports news, and has covered film, television, and casting news as a freelancer for outlets like Collider and United Press International, as well as Chicago sports news for Fansided.