Phelan, the Republican House Speaker from Beaumont, Texas, finds himself in a precarious position as he faces mounting opposition from the far-right conservatives within his party. Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and former President Donald Trump have accused Phelan of being a “RINO” (Republican in name only). This backlash stems from the deep divisions within the Republican Party, exacerbated by the House’s impeachment of Paxton and their refusal to pass a school voucher program favored by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Phelan’s position as the No. 1 enemy of Texas’ far-right conservatives has opened the door for two primary challengers, including well-funded candidate David Covey. Both Paxton and Trump have publicly endorsed Covey, while Abbott has remained silent on the matter, focusing instead on campaigning against incumbent House Republicans that Phelan is trying to protect. This primary race has become a referendum on the influence of the most conservative faction of the party, with conservatives aiming to make Phelan the first speaker to lose a primary in 52 years.
Despite the mounting opposition, Phelan remains focused on his district and the resources it needs to prosper. He views the race as an opportunity to remind voters of his accomplishments, such as securing investments for mental health, higher education, and disaster preparedness. Phelan’s district, which hugs the Louisiana border and is vulnerable to natural disasters, relies on industries like petrochemical plants for well-paying jobs. While the region offers a high quality of life, it also faces the constant threat of flooding from tropical storms.
Phelan’s political career began in 2014 when he won his first election by a wide margin. His family’s prominence in Beaumont, stemming from their involvement in the oil field, has helped shape his political trajectory. Phelan has worked to address issues that matter deeply to his district, including securing funding for flood protection and supporting conservative legislation such as a near-total ban on abortion and permitless carry of handguns. Despite these accomplishments, Phelan finds himself facing criticism from the grassroots faction of the party for appointing Democrats to committee leadership positions, as well as his support for Paxton’s impeachment.
While Phelan retains support from local establishment Republicans and endorsements from figures like former Gov. Rick Perry, his standing among grassroots conservatives is slipping. The impeachment of Paxton, the failure to pass a school voucher program, and disagreements with Lt. Gov. Patrick have all contributed to Phelan’s declining support among this faction of the party. Abbott’s lack of public support further adds to Phelan’s challenges as he fights to protect his members and his political survival.
As the primary race heats up, Phelan remains focused on his district and the support he has from his constituents and colleagues. He sees the opposition as having their own motives and believes that his record of service speaks for itself. However, with powerful figures like Paxton, Patrick, and Trump against him, Phelan’s path to victory becomes increasingly uncertain. Only time will tell whether Phelan can overcome this backlash and retain his position as House Speaker.