The impeachment trial of a powerful Republican in Texas this week is being fought by two groups in the modern Republican Party who see the loss of political power as an existential threat.
The top government lawyer in Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton, is currently suspended and facing removal from office by the state Senate for charges of abusing his power to help a real estate developer and donor who was in financial trouble, who then helped Paxton renovate his home and cover up an extramarital affair.
The Texas Senate began a trial Tuesday.
The evidence against Paxton is significant. In addition to the Senate trial, he is the subject of a federal corruption and bribery investigation. Several of Paxton’s own deputies in the Texas attorney general’s office brought accusations against him back in the fall of 2020, and a Republican investigation this year accused him of multiple crimes.
But Paxton’s impeachment is being fought by two groups: former President Donald Trump and some of his allies, and a small group of megadonors who have aggressively reshaped Texas politics to fit their religious beliefs over the past decade or two.
MAGA support for Paxton
Former Trump White House adviser turned podcaster Steve Bannon put it bluntly. “This ... is not really about Ken Paxton,” Bannon said Tuesday on his daily webcast. He cast Paxton’s trial as a small battle in a larger war by Trump against “the establishment.”
The implication of Bannon’s comment is that the details of Paxton’s trial don’t matter, and his alleged misconduct and lawbreaking don’t matter, because he has litigated aggressively against the Biden administration’s policies and supported Trump politically in the past.
Indeed, Paxton led one of the biggest legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Two months after he was accused of corruption by his own employees, he coordinated the filing of a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the election results.
Read more from Yahoo News: A conservative push to save Ken Paxton, via the New York Times
The suit’s legal theory was described as “dangerous” by one of Paxton’s own former top deputies, Rep. Chip Roy, a conservative who voted to certify the 2020 election results.
The Supreme Court quickly dismissed the lawsuit, and Paxton is facing an ethics lawsuit from the Texas State Bar, which charged that his 2020 lawsuit was based on “dishonest” statements.
Trump, however, has backed Paxton. In May, the former president said it was “unfair” that the Texas state House — which is controlled by a large Republican majority — impeached Paxton by a vote of 121 to 23.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that Paxton was “fighting the Austin Swamp and Establishment” and threatened to seek political retribution against Republican state senators who might vote to convict him.
Paxton’s Texas megadonors
Paxton’s other main source of support is from two Texas megadonors who have spent at least $30 million over the last decade, and probably more than that, to push the Republican Party and state government further to the right.
Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks both became billionaires in Texas’s energy sector. And both ground their political action in religious beliefs that see politics as an existential battle with the highest of stakes.
“The cornerstones of our government are crumbling and starting to come apart. And it’s because of the lack of morality, the lack of belief in our heavenly Father,” Wilks said in a sermon he preached in 2014 at the small church two hours west of Dallas where he has been the pastor for many years.
Wilks — whose church website appears to state that they do not believe that Jesus Christ was divine, in what would be a view many Christian churches would hold to be heretical — also said in a 2013 sermon that homosexuals are “predatorial” and “want your children.”
Read more from Yahoo News: Gen Z influencers, quietly recruited by a company with deep GOP ties, rally to impeached Ken Paxton’s aid, via the Texas Tribune
Dunn, meanwhile, has expressed the view that evangelical Christians are uniquely designated by God to be in charge. “If you are an evangelical and you don’t vote, that means you are not doing your duty because you are the ones that God gave the authority to,” Dunn said, according to a Texas Monthly profile.
The comments of both men follow the broad contours of the perspective of Christian nationalists, who believe that the nation can prosper only if their interpretation of the Christian faith, which is usually very right-wing and fundamentalist, dominates government and culture.
Texas is one of just 10 states where political donors can give unlimited contributions to individual politicians, and Dunn and Wilks have taken advantage of that in recent years.
Until June, Paxton had received more money than anyone in Texas from the two billionaires and the groups they fund, according to the Texas Tribune. The Tribune estimated that Paxton had received almost $5 million from these two men and their political donation machines, who have aligned themselves with the now suspended attorney general.
More recently, after Paxton was impeached in the Texas House, Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee supporting Paxton and bankrolled by Dunn and Wilks, gave a $1 million political contribution and a $2 million loan to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is overseeing the impeachment trial in the Senate.
Most of the 19 Republican members of the Texas Senate have received some political donations from Wilks, Dunn or one of their organizations.
Wilks and his brother Dan gave $15 million to a super-PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Cruz, who supported Paxton’s suit in 2020 to overturn the election, has backed Paxton during his impeachment as well.