Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton remains indicted for securities fraud, a status he has held since 2015 as everyone in the state apparently conspires to slow walk his trial into the next millennium. He has evidently been using the time gained to commit other alleged crimes; as attorney general, his own subordinates have accused him of bribery and other criminal acts, and his own attempts to delegitimize the 2020 elections appear to have been motivated at least in part by Paxton fishing for a Trump pardon for those crimes.
He is the perfect model of new Republicanism by way of Trumpism, a man who really likes to bellow about the rule of law and the criminality of his enemies while skirting the law himself. These are the pissant little twits that Trump’s party would have rule us, that the Fox News propagandists spend countless hours attempting to prop up, and who would head fascism’s home office if the next violent insurrection has more success than his last attempt.
In Texas, however, Paxton is just another member in the statewide Republican attempt to undermine elections under the guise of protecting Texans from a wave of “fraud” that nobody can find, no matter how much money or time Republican racists and conspiracy theorists spend hunting for it.
The Houston Chronicle is reporting the latest numbers from Paxton’s aggressive search for “voter fraud” in the state, and the numbers are about what you’d expect for an indicted ultrapartisan casting lines everywhere in search of justifications for his party’s attacks on voting rights. Paxton’s office logged “more than 22,000 staff hours” working on voter fraud cases in the last year, roughly doubling both the law enforcement officers and prosecutors already assigned to those cases. All 22,000 hours were paid for by Texas voters.
How much fraud did Texas Ahab’s team find in those 22,000 hours? Sixteen cases. The team closed out 16 cases, all of them for Houston-area residents who wrote “false addresses” on voter registration forms. None of the 16 went to jail for it. That’s in keeping with his department’s long-term record, which has never found any organized fraud of the sort Paxton continues to insist exists somewhere, just beyond our visible realms.
Sayeth the Chronicle: “In its 15 years of its existence, the unit has prosecuted a few dozen cases in which offenders received jail time, none of them involving widespread fraud.”
The Washington Post‘s Phillip Bump notes that from 2015 (you know, the year Ken Paxton was first indicted for crimes) to last year, there have been only 197 state-filed complaints of election fraud. That’s out of tens of millions of votes, for a total percentage of approximately bupkis. It is not a thing that exists. While Paxton’s allies have continued to lie outright about widespread supposed fraud, the number of pending cases involving the 2020 election consists of exactly one. Team Indicted Fascist is simply lying on this one. The Republican governor, the Republican legislators—they’re all lying on this one. The case for writing new, tighter voting restrictions into law cannot be made because the “fraud” they look to prevent—and that Paxton has blown tens of thousands of hours looking for last year alone—is either paranoid fantasy or outright anti-democratic propaganda.
The reason for new Republican-pushed laws putting up higher obstacles to voting than already exist is the same in Texas as it is in Georgia. As voting trends shift (and after the two Republican presidencies in most recent memory both ended in national catastrophes), Republican candidates are finding themselves in increasingly close scrapes. The toppling of Georgia’s two meritless Republican senators, especially, appears to have driven party leaders into outright panic. Any barricade that can hold Black or Hispanic voters from the polls or that can put a single new hour of delay between a working class voter and the ballot box is being hastily thrown up in an attempt to retake government in the next midterms. The threat is considered existential.
And it’s considered existential in large part because Republican propaganda has successfully convinced a large portion of their own base that they are losing elections not because of economic crises, pandemics, scandals, and incompetence, but because not-white not-Republicans are “stealing” them out from under the party. The propaganda that underpinned a violent pro-Trump insurrection and that underpins state Republican laws targeting voting rights are one and the same. It is the same effort. The goals of both are to nullify elections Republicans have lost and replace them with “correct” results that the party itself has determined to be more valid.
It’s not new. The violence at its edges isn’t new either. This is what the Republican Party morphed into after the losers of the civil rights era coalesced together into one large ball of hate and grudges. Trump’s innovation was to scrape off the crust and prove to the party that those grudges were close enough and strong enough to hold the party together all on their own. No policy. No need for success, no penalties for failure, and no need to be bound by either decorum or truth. Just the grudge, screamed at everyone in America who was turning it into a less hateful place than they would prefer.
While Ken Paxton is lying about fraud and the Texas governor is threatening to withhold legislature pay unless Democrats allow Republican-demanded voting restrictions to be written into law, Texas Republicans are trying to dodge accusations of outright racism in crafting their new “fixes” to a fake problem. A specific provision in the Texas bill that limited early voting on the Sunday prior to an election to the period from 1 PM to 9PM appears to aim squarely at “Souls to the Polls” efforts by Black churches to encourage voting after Sunday services. (Southern Republicans have focused on Black church voting initiatives in multiple states with, among other devices, rules that criminalize driving voters to the polls unless you’re related to them or have filled out a form with the state. Other rules have banned providing voters with water once they’re in line. Anything that might make it easier to vote is being targeted by Republican bills; anything that puts new steps between voters and voting is being embraced in the same bills.)
Texas Republicans now claim that the seems-to-be-racist thing was, ha ha, just a little accident when typing things up. The 1 PM opening time was meant to be 11 AM, you see, and not a single Republican noticed it until after attempting to ram through the vote on the measure, despite the clause being specifically singled out across the national media as an apparently racist act.
Sure, right. “We just now noticed that the thing the country is pointing to as evidence of blatant racist intent on our parts was actually, um, a typo.” That’ll work.
There’s not going to be a Republican reckoning here or a backpedaling from these voter suppression efforts. The party genuinely believes it and only it has a legitimate claim to government power, a “right” that is only ever taken from it when the wrong people vote or when too many people vote. It’s not Republicanism that’s flawed and needs reformation in party minds. It’s the voting.
If the House and Senate cannot impose new minimal standards that allow all Americans the same right to vote without state lawmakers throwing up a barrage of new hurdles, this will continue. It will worsen. New Republican laws are granting new supposed powers to circumvent actual vote totals and determine the “correct” outcome of elections—precisely what Republican seditionists stormed Congress to demand—and state Republicans will not hesitate to test those powers if individual midterm races do not go their way.
That even those screaming about “election fraud” the loudest cannot, even with every state resource at their disposal or with the powers of a presidency behind them, find any of the fraud they are looking for is evidence enough that the claims are intended to be propaganda, not fact. The Republican Party is organized around a propaganda campaign in order to convince their base that our current democracy is no longer legitimate and that it therefore must be altered to better meet Republican needs. It is a fascist attack, it follows the path of historic fascist attacks, and it stands every chance of working.