There’s something about the American West generally and Texas specifically that has always attracted people looking for a place to start over. People who have washed out of every corner of American life have found their way to Texas. Some of them found life in the oil fields agreeable, others reinvented themselves so thoroughly they would occupy prominent corners in the energy and finance sectors.
And then, of course, there’s Davy Crockett, who famously lost a congressional race in Tennessee and said of the folks who voted him out of office “they might go to hell, and I might go to Texas.”
He did, and he died fighting in the Texas Revolution.
This brings us to Allen West, Florida Man, whose short-lived career in Congress from that state crashed and burned spectacularly before he found his way down to Texas, where he spent his Fourth of July holiday very clumsily rolling out an expected bid for the Republican nomination for Governor of Texas.
While West’s entry into the race was the subject of intense speculation since he announced he would be stepping down from his current role as Chairman of the Texas GOP in June, his decision to officially enter the race against incumbent Governor Greg Abbott and firebrand former Tea Party State Senator Don Huffines has already inadvertently made history: it is the first time in recent national political history that a sitting state party chair launched a primary challenge against an incumbent member of their own party.
West’s unconventional, longshot bid to topple Abbott is exceedingly on-brand for the enigmatic former Florida congressman, a man who saw his career in the U.S. military cut short after an incident during which he unlawfully tortured someone, and often served as a chaos agent in the Texas GOP.
West’s election as chair of the state Republicans brought with it awkward embraces of the Qanon conspiracy theory and a full-blown effort to perpetuate Trump’s Big Lie. West became a consistent and reliable critic of Abbott, who as the Republican Governor has long been the figurehead of his the state, even going so far as to headline a rally in front of the governor’s mansion objecting to COVID-19 restrictions that took place in the fall of 2020 during the heat of the most competitive presidential race in the state in generations.
And West’s launch has been as unconventional as he has. He announced by showing a seven-minute, yes I said seven-minute, intro video for his campaign at an event he was attending in his capacity as party chair.
In that seven-minute video (yes, it was seven minutes and no, I’m still not over the fact that I forced myself to watch it for you, our wonderful readers) West mostly tries to create a permission structure for voting for someone who is, by any reasonable definition of the term, a complete carpetbagger by teaching history lessons about all the great folks from Tennessee and Georgia who fled the United States to fight in the Texas Revolution.
In many ways, that is a perfect metaphor for West, a man who was rejected by his own military after engaging in illegal and embarrassing behavior, who would later luck into a seat in Congress during the 2010 Republican wave, only to lose it two years later. West, undaunted, demanded recounts and investigations into supposed irregularities in a county that tilted to his Democratic opponent.
Despite his protestations, no evidence of irregularities was ever found and West’s Democratic opponent was certified as the winner. Even still, West’s conduct in the days after that 2012 race for Congress presaged the Trump playbook by nearly a decade.
While the Texas GOP rode a mini-Trump wave to victories across the state in 2020, it’s unclear how much West and his regime at the state party actually did to achieve any of those gains. As of the most recent finance reports available through the Texas Ethics Commission, the party shows very little cash on hand, and West seems to have spent the bulk of his tenure doing little other than promoting his own interests, which he finally revealed on Sunday.
It remains to be seen how seriously Abbott is taking his intraparty challenges at a time when many believe the governor has his eyes on the 2024 presidential primary. Abbott has already announced the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, whose base both Huffines and West are going to need to aggressively court to have any chance of beating Abbott, who is likely to amass a huge financial advantage over his opponents.
We’ll know more about how much Abbott is holding in his war chest by July 15th, when semi-annual finance reports are due for candidates for state and county offices in Texas. As of his January 15th report, Abbott had just over $2 million on hand after spending close to $6 million during the 2020 cycle supporting Republican candidates around the country.
While Abbott may not have the warchest he did at this point in 2017, when he was well on his way to raising a staggering $43 million by the end of that year for his first re-election campaign, don’t let that fool you. He’s spent the first half of 2021 serving up conservative red meat and making patently obvious appeals to the right-wing money machine. In a state with no contribution limits, you should expect Abbott to put up some serious numbers on his July finance report, and for an even more monstrous December report.
Even still, any money Abbott is forced to spend in a Republican primary is helpful to Democratic chances to knock off the governor in the 2022 cycle. While Abbott has most of the advantages on his side right now, he also has considerable weaknesses that he’s never had to contend with before. A restless base, coupled with frustration over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and abject failure during the winter storm and energy crisis that killed hundreds of Texans have taken a lot of the shine off of Abbott politically speaking, and those issues could cause the embattled governor serious headaches in a primary or general election.
Will West be able to overtake Abbott in a Republican primary? Time will tell, but at minimum, his presence in the race introduces an element of chaos to the proceedings that promises to be as frightening as it is wildly entertaining.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.