Ken Paxton

Pollster: Texas leaders' silence impacts how GOP voters feel about Paxton trial

Most Republican leaders in Texas have said little about the impeachment trial of suspended AG Ken Paxton. The ones who talk, have split opinions. Voters don't have a clear message.

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Outspoken on many issues, Texas's top Republican leaders are cautious around the trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton. That uneasiness impacts how their voters feel about the issue.

Two factors are at play.

First, politicians whose professional career often is dictated by which way the political winds blow, don't know how this trial will turn out. Will Paxton be convicted and be without a political future? Or will he succeed and become one of the most powerful forces in state government looking for revenge. Campaign donations are influence are likely to flow in different directions based on the outcome.

Second, a senate gag-order imposed by the presiding judge of the trial, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, stops a lot of the dialogue surrounding Paxton's fate. Many House members who impeached Paxton indicate to NBC 5 they want to share their views but are stopped by the gag order. More than 120 of the 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach Paxton.

Key leaders who can talk don't always share their views.

The two United States Senators from Texas have taken different views on Paxton's situation. Sen. John Cornyn this week called the trial "deeply disturbing" and "painful to watch." Cornyn is a former Texas attorney general and also said he doesn't think voters had full knowledge of the facts when they elected Paxton to a third term.

Sen. Ted Cruz spoke with NBC 5 earlier this summer and said he supported Paxton but gave the impression he wasn't going to be active in saving his friend's job.

"We just had an election, and the voters of Texas reelected Ken by a large margin and I think the voters of Texas made a decision what kind of attorney general they want and what I encourage people to do is to respect the will of the voters of Texas," said Sen. Cruz.

When NBC 5 asked him if he was going to do anything to help Paxton - work the phones, campaign, fundraise - Cruz said he trusts the process and is focused on the job Texans elected him to do.

"I'm going to trust the Texas state senate to resolve this," said Cruz, "I made my position clear but I'm also in the middle of battles in Washington."

Most of the state's statewide elected leaders and all but a few members of Congress have been largely silent on Paxton's fate. On NBC 5's Lone Star Politics, director of the Texas Politics Project, Jim Henson, said that ambiguity among leaders is leading to Republican voter confusion.

"Your examples of what Cruz and Cornyn are saying, which is not the same thing, or not entirely clear, doesn't give voters much help. We're seeing the results of that in much of the polling that we're doing," said Henson.

The largest chunk of Republican voters polled on the issue from the Texas Politics Project didn't know how to think about many of the major issues surrounding the trial.

"What voters really look to when they don't know much about a topic or they're not paying attention or its complicated, is information and ques from partisan figures that they respect or that they listen to," said Henson.

To the question: how much have you heard about the impeachment and pending senate trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton? 44 percent of GOP voters said some but 32 percent said not very much or nothing at all.

To the question: do you think that the Texas House of Representatives was justified in impeaching Attorney General Ken Paxton? 39 percent didn't know or had no opinion.

To the question: do you think that Ken Paxton took actions while Attorney General that justify removing him from elected office? 43 percent of GOP voters had no opinion or didn't know.

"I think it's an absence of guidance on things they're not paying too much attention to and is inherently complicated," said Henson.

Former President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. have sent tweets and messages supporting Paxton.

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R - Amarillo, wrote in support of Paxton, writing "The Swamp in Austin HATES Ken Paxton because he fights for Texas and TEXAS ALONE!"

In 2020, Rep. Chip Roy, R - Austin, in a rare move came out early to support the whistleblowers who contacted the FBI over Paxton's actions. Those actions sparked the original impeachment inquiry.

“For the good of the people of Texas and the extraordinary public servants who serve at the Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General Ken Paxton must resign,” Roy said in a statement in 2020.

The majority of the Texas delegation in Congress has been quiet on Paxton. Former congressman and one of Paxton's opponents in the 2022 Republican primary, Louie Gohmert wrote this week in an op-ed, Paxton "divides and destroys his party and his state."

Governor Greg Abbott has likewise said little about the upcoming process. When asked about it at a press conference, Abbott only said he had a constitutional duty to name a temporary attorney general while Paxton was suspended.

Arguably the most powerful politician in the state is presiding over the case. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said little before his self-imposed gag order. That order stopped the Senate jury from speaking publicly.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller attended a Collin County GOP rally before the impeachment trial but said little according to reports from the event.

Before that order, Republican Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan, R - Beaumont, told KXAN News, "I’m proud of the work product that the board of managers put forth. And we have a good team. And it was the right thing to do.”

In another example of retired politicians weighing in, former Governor Rick Perry sided with the pro-impeachment side and asked for the trial to continue.

"Republicans once believed in the rule of law," wrote Perry in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

"By moving forward with the trial, the Senate will both do its duty and answer voters’ legitimate questions about the allegations against Mr. Paxton," wrote Perry, "Texans can show the rest of the country that the rule of law applies to both political parties."

Paxton's own home county is split. While the Collin County Republican Party condemned the impeachment five Republican representatives from the county voted in favor of impeaching him.

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