Ken Paxton hit the campaign trail with a smile last week.

Beaming in photos he posted of events in Collin County, Denton County, Grayson County and Tarrant County, the Texas Republican attorney general campaigned and promoted more than a dozen candidates on the ballot in this week’s primary election.

Most are new faces to the Republican Party, because Paxton, the legally embattled but popular statewide official, isn’t seeking to shore up his party’s incumbents: Paxton is out for revenge.

“It’s time for a whole new slate in Collin County,” he wrote in one post with a photo of him and five Republican candidates seeking to oust incumbents. Two of them are running in the same race — his tweet suggests voters pick one — but all share one key characteristic in their primaries: They didn’t vote to impeach the attorney general last year.

Paxton was impeached on corruption charges by the Texas state House last May, with 60 votes coming from his own party, before the Texas state Senate acquitted him in September and restored him to office.

Now, the attorney general has issued endorsements to candidates in more than 70 contests, with most going to Republican lawmakers who voted against his impeachment or those challenging GOP incumbents who voted for it. His social media accounts boast a two-page, single-spaced list of endorsements up and down the March 5 primary ballot.

And he has a powerful ally in his effort: Former President Donald Trump has endorsed a dozen of the candidates Paxton is backing, making good on his promise to punish those who voted against his longtime ally.

It’s turning an already chaotic primary season in Texas into yet another battleground in the Republican Party’s internal wars.

“What you’re seeing right now is a reflection of what is happening [in] national politics. You’ve seen Donald Trump jump into — I don’t even know how many — state rep races. Why is he getting involved that far down the ballot? Because it is a preservation of legacy,” said Matt Langston, a Republican strategist in Texas. “It’s ensuring if you’re on the wrong side that there’s a consequence to pay.”

Over the past week on social media, Trump fired off endorsement after endorsement for candidates supported by Paxton. He championed three judges Paxton backed for the Court of Criminal Appeals, which angered Paxton when it prevented him from prosecuting election fraud, and more than a dozen state legislative candidates.

Perhaps Paxton’s top target heading into Tuesday is state House Speaker Dade Phelan, who oversaw the state attorney general’s impeachment effort. Paxton and Trump are backing Phelan’s leading GOP primary challenger, David Covey.

“David Covey is running against Dade Phelan, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, who led the Fraudulent Impeachment of the recently re-elected, in a landslide, Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton,” read one Trump post on Truth Social. “Any Republican backing Phelan is a fool, and should be disassociated from the Republican Party — that’s how bad Phelan is, especially on, Election Integrity!”

Trump Waco Texas
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Waco Regional Airport on March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Covey’s ads in the final stretch of the primary race have heavily touted Trump’s endorsement. In addition to appearing on the campaign trail, Paxton has also appeared in some of Covey’s campaign spots.

“Dade has lost his way and is more beholden to the Democrats who elected him speaker than the people who elected him to fight for them,” Paxton said in one of Covey’s ads.

Phelan responded to the attacks from Paxton and Trump head-on in a recent ad of his own.

“Vengeful Paxton is the reason Trump’s involving himself in our race. If Paxton will break an oath to his wife and God, why would he tell Trump — or you — the truth?” Phelan said, alluding to the details of Paxton’s extramarital affair that became public during the trial.

Paxton isn’t the only major figure whose political firepower is at play in Texas this season. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has an endorsement list of his own, often differing from Paxton’s. He’s targeted a number of rural Republicans who voted against his school choice bill, while lending some political cover to the state House impeachment managers.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been active on the trail, too, including in defense of Phelan.

“I’ll be real honest with you. If you would have told me 10 years ago you’re gonna be in Beaumont, Texas, trying to referee a fighting Republican primary, I’d have been, ‘Really?’” Perry quipped at one event.

“This in-house fighting and all that kind of stuff, I don’t really understand frankly why it’s happening,” he continued. “I don’t know why I need to be in Beaumont, Texas, telling you that you will be absolutely out of your mind if you get rid of Dade Phelan. I mean, we’re gonna give y’all mental competency tests.”

The endorsements Paxton is issuing could also benefit him down the line if he seeks higher office. Between endorsements, he also frequently attacks U.S. Sen. Jon Cornyn of Texas, who is not facing re-election this year but supported Paxton’s impeachment, in social media posts.

Here are a few of the candidates Paxton has endorsed in the March 5 primary:

  • State Rep. Travis Clardy, a Republican who voted against Paxton’s impeachment and has since sought to reform the impeachment process in the Texas House.
  • Mitch Little, one of Paxton’s impeachment lawyers who is running for a state House seat.
  • State Rep. Gary Gates, a Republican who voted to impeach Paxton but has since expressed regret at that vote.
  • Katrina Pierson, a former spokesperson for Trump’s campaign who is running for a state House seat.
  • Joshua Feuerstein, a conservative internet personality known for opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights, said Paxton personally recruited him to challenge state Rep. Keith Bell, a Republican who voted for the state attorney general’s impeachment. Feuerstein spoke at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally at the U.S. Capitol, concluding his remarks with a fiery line: “It is time for war! Let us stop the steal!”

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