Far-right favorite Abraham George elected to lead Texas GOP

Texas GOP Party Chair candidate Abraham George delivers his candidate speech during the first general session of the convention in San Antonio, on May 23, 2024. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune, Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

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SAN ANTONIO — Abraham George will be the next chair of the Republican Party of Texas after winning an election at the party’s convention.

The election, which culminated Friday evening, turned into a referendum on outgoing Chair Matt Rinaldi. Under Rinaldi’s reign, the party’s divisions deepened and its fundraising and staffing levels plummeted. As Rinaldi’s chosen successor, George is expected to continue the party’s trajectory, with the far-right using the party institution as a bully pulpit to attack more moderate conservatives.

George, a former Collin County GOP chair who recently ran for the Texas House, defeated party Vice Chair Dana Myers in the second round of voting on the convention floor. Four other candidates failed to advance to the convention floor, including Ben Armenta, a Houston-area businessman; Mike Garcia, former executive director of the Texas House Freedom Caucus; and Travis County GOP Chair Matt Mackowiak. Another, former Real Estate Commissioner Weston Martinez, was the third-place vote-getter on the floor and endorsed Myers after he was eliminated.

"I am humbled and honored to have received the support of thousands of my fellow Republicans and be elected as chairman of the Republican Party of Texas," George said on social media just after his victory. "I look forward to uniting with every single Republican in our state and working towards our shared objective: electing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and every other Republican on the ballot this November."

Mackowiak’s late entrance into the race last week underscored the divisions within the party and dissatisfaction with Rinaldi’s leadership — and the influence of far-right oil billionaire funders Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. After Mackowiak was eliminated from the election, he endorsed Myers, despite George emerging from the preliminary round of voting as the frontrunner.

George’s campaign for party chair was marred by reports that he was intercepted by police last year as he left his home with a loaded gun to confront a man he believed was sleeping with his wife. But he was able to weather that scandal thanks in part to endorsements from Rinaldi, Attorney General Ken Paxton and two dozen other prominent Republicans affiliated with Dunn and Wilks’ network. George’s wife joined him on stage Thursday, when he spoke to delegates at the start of the convention.

George will inherit a deeply-divided party that is hobbling into the 2024 presidential election cycle with a shrunken donor base and unprecedented reliance on Dunn and Wilks — who became by far the party’s biggest donors under Rinaldi, a former House member whose legislative career they bankrolled. George’s failed primary run against Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas, for the Texas House was also funded primarily by Dunn and Wilks. He lost in March by 5 percentage points.

In its most recent federal filing, in April, the party reported having $2.7 million on-hand — three-quarters of what it had at the same point in the 2020 cycle, when adjusted for inflation. And much of those funds have already been spent to cover the estimated $1.8 million cost of this week's convention — which party leaders project to operate at a $38,000 loss for the party. The party is also currently employing just five people — compared to 50 at the same time in 2020.

In his two terms as chair, Rinaldi was perhaps the most important defender and cheerleader of the billionaires, helping them survive a series of setbacks and high-profile scandals last year. Among them: The expulsion of Bryan Slaton, a former Royse City House member who was funded by Dunn and Wilks, for getting a 19-year-old intern drunk and having sex with her; the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose biggest donors by far are Dunn and Wilks; and a major controversy involving avowed antisemites and white supremacists in the billionaires’ political network.

The latter scandal began in October, after The Texas Tribune reported that Jonathan Stickland, who at the time led the billionaires’ most important political action committee, Defend Texas Liberty, had hosted notorious white supremacist and Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes. Rinaldi was also spotted outside the meeting, but denied knowing Fuentes was there. He then spent the next few months attacking critics of Stickland and the billionaires — while also quietly working as an attorney for Wilks.

That scandal came to a head in November, after the Texas GOP’s executive committee narrowly rejected a ban on associating with known antisemites, Holocaust deniers or neo-Nazis. Myers, the vice chair who was defeated Friday, was among the almost half of executive committee members who called for the party to cut ties with Stickland and his groups as a result.

Mackowiak was similarly critical of the episode, saying in his campaign announcement that the party could not survive another “five years of neglect, dishonesty, self-dealing, and blatant anti-Semitism.

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