Ken Paxton

Republicans have wide range of opinions on Paxton's fate ahead of trial

According to recent polls of voters, interviews, and public statements, Republicans hold different views on how the Texas Senate should decide suspended AG Paxton's fate.

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Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton's fate will come down to fellow Republicans. If all twelve senate Democrats vote against him, nine out of the eighteen voting Republican senators will be needed to remove him. Paxton's wife, Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, will be present at the trial but unable to vote per senate rules.

According to the latest poll from the Texas Politics Project, Republican voters have mixed emotions about Paxton's fate.

When pollster Jim Henson asked 1,200 registered voters directly if Paxton took actions that justify removing him from office: 24% of Republican voters said yes, 32% said no, and 43% said they didn't know or hadn't formed an opinion. Henson told NBC 5, views on Paxton are different from thoughts on former President Trump, who appears to get more popular with Republican voters as his legal and political problems mount.

"Ken Paxton is not enjoying the durable, seemingly undefeatable allegiance that a certain core of Republican voters give to Donald Trump," said Henson.

Slightly more GOP voters thought the Texas House was not justified in impeaching Paxton but 39% of them didn't have a yes or no opinion. Paxton's approval rate since April 2023 has also plummeted from 65% to 46% among Republican voters. His approval numbers overall have taken a downturn driven largely by independents and rural voters.

Paxton faces accusations of bribery and abuse of power, mostly centering around an indicted Austin real estate developer and an alleged former mistress. Senators begin hearing his trial Tuesday, September 5th.

To hear the evidence of not?

Paxton's lawyers have filed a motion with the senate court to dismiss all but one of the impeachment articles because the alleged actions took place before Paxton was reelected in November 2022: first defeating three well-known and well-funded challengers in the primary and then trouncing the democrat in the general election.

"They do have one, very important legal issue with that case and that is, we are talking about allegations that are two to eight years old," Matt Rinaldi, chair of the Texas GOP, told NBC 5.

Rinaldi agrees with Paxton's attorneys in believing the impeachment process in the House was rushed and not transparent enough. The case started as a secret investigation known as "Matter A" until revealed and voted on in the final days of the legislative session. Once revealed however, 60 House Republicans, nearly three-fourths of their caucus voted to impeach the attorney general.

"They whipped votes. It's no surprise that they had a lot of Republicans voting for it. But if you think about it. None of them prior to forty-eight hours before this impeachment vote being taken was calling for Paxton's impeachment publicly," said Rinaldi.

The Texas GOP chairman wants the "forgiveness" or "prior term" doctrine to apply.

To the idea that these are only accusations and the senate trial now has the time to fully hear both sides, testimony, and evidence, Rinaldi told NBC 5 it should not go to that point.

"That's the ridiculous position that some members have taken but you can't find that precedent in any impeachment in Texas history and certainly the Federal impeachments as well. Because it's bad precedent. You don't want a house to impeach somebody based on rumor, innuendo, conjecture and hearsay," Rinaldi said.

Longtime North Texas conservative, former member of the Texas Senate, and candidate for Governor last year, Don Huffines, also believes the process was rushed.

"It certainly seemed very rushed. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision," said Huffines.

However, differing from Rinaldi, Huffines wants the Senate to hear the evidence and testimony and believes the body of jurors will make a fair ruling.

"I think they'll make a good decision and I think that Texans should stand behind that decision," said Huffines, "I haven't made up my mind. I definitely want to see more evidence and want to see testimony on both sides. You know when the defense gets up there it's going to be a real different day, it really is.

While Rinaldi and Huffines believe the House rushed the process, some big names emerged in the last few days to support the impeachment managers.

"Republicans once believed in the rule of law," wrote former Governor Rick 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."

Former Governor Perry and longtime political operator Karl Rove made public statements after a pressure campaign began. The conservative group Defend Texas Liberty PAC and a new pro-Paxton group made up of longtime allies have been advocating for the articles of impeachment to be thrown out online, with mail pieces, and television ads.

Defend Texas Liberty released a poll they did of more than 400 Republican primary voters in a North Texas senate district showing 52% wanted the charges dismissed, 22% wanting the trial, and 26% unsure.

Several times, former President Trump's advisor Steve Bannon has highlighted pro-Paxton political operators and encouraged people to call senators office to demand they throw out the articles.

No constant and clear signal from state's top leaders

UT pollster, Jim Henson, told NBC 5 one reason why Republican voters don't have clear opinions on the issue is because major state and national leaders have been relatively quiet on the Paxton impeachment.

"Voters, when they're trying to form an opinion about something they don't know a lot about or is complex, they follow the leads of partisan leaders that they trust," said Henson.

Mix that, with many Texans not paying attention to Attorney General Paxton in general, mean opinions are up for grabs according to Henson.

"Republicans are not getting clear signals," said Henson.

Former President Trump wrote in support of Paxton early on but has not campaigned for him other than a few public statements as he's been fending off his own legal problems. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz argued the House's process against Paxton was rushed but said he trusted the Texas Senate and was focusing on his own job in Washington. The state's other U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, told reporters several times he was concerned with what he was seeing from Paxton's actions.

The majority of the Texas delegation in Congress has been quiet on Paxton.

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 state's most powerful Republican politician presiding over the case in the state senate, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, has said little because of his self-imposed gag order. That order stopped the Senate jury from speaking publicly.

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.”

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

Political experts tell NBC 5 Republicans may feel reluctant to speak publicly about the trial because the stakes are huge for the future of the state and few have any idea how the senators will vote.

“You’re seeing a fracture within the party right now,” said Matt Langston, a Republican political consultant in Texas. “This is going to impact the leadership and the party for a long time.”

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