Big Wins for Big Lie Politics in Texas’s Republican Primaries

Baseless claims of voter fraud fueled GOP candidates on Tuesday, though “Stop the Steal” activists failed to oust one of their top targets.

Daniel Nichanian | March 2, 2022

A sign against U.S. Representative Van Taylor. (Keith Self for Congress/Facebook)

Republican voters on Tuesday blessed an effort by GOP elected officials in a North Texas county to take over the local election administration process in the name of fighting fraud.

On the other side of the Dallas region, a rare Republican member of Congress who voted to certify the 2020 presidential election and create a January 6th commission found himself locked into a runoff against a badly underfunded candidate who thinks it’s too early to say who won in 2020 and cheers efforts to overturn the results. Within hours on Wednesday, U.S. Representative Van Taylor announced he was dropping out of the runoff over allegations of infedelity, handing a stunning victory to President Donald Trump’s allies.

The results of the Texas primaries showed once again that GOP politics today is fueled by the force of the Big Lie, the baseless claim peddled by Trump that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud.

Big Lie politics have even reshaped how elections are administered in the state since 2020, with Texas Republicans invoking fraud last year to pass a stringent voting law that left local election officials reeling and sent mail ballot rejection rates soaring.

Purveyors of the Big Lie did suffer a big loss on Tuesday, too. They targeted Scott Walker, a Republican judge running for a second term on the state’s highest criminal court, angered by a ruling Walker signed that limited the attorney general’s powers to prosecute fraud and vowing to punish him for it. Walker beat back challenger Clint Morgan, a Houston prosecutor who trumpeted the support of these conservative groups while talking up his tough-on-crime credentials.

But Walker didn’t challenge the premises of the Big Lie during his campaign, telling Shorelinescripts that he could not say who won the last presidential election. He joins the long list of GOP officials who are not willing to call out the false statements that are helping their party justify restricting access to the ballot.

Van Taylor was one of just two Texas Republicans who supported creating a commission to investigate the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th last year. The vote came five months after he supported certifying the results of the presidential election that Trump lost. The twin positions put a target on his back from conservative activists in the state’s third congressional district, anchored in North Texas around Collin County, where his massive financial edge was not enough to shield him from a Big Lie backlash.

Of the 21 Republican members of Congress seeking re-election, Taylor was the only one who failed to clinch the GOP nomination on Tuesday. He received 49 percent of the vote on Tuesday, and was set to face former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who received 27 percent of the vote, in a May 24 runoff. Suzanne Harp, a candidate who has blamed Taylor for the fact that Trump is no longer president, received 21 percent—a number that put added pressure on Taylor.

But on Wednesday, the congressmember bowed out of the runoff, conceding it to Self, who is now heavily favored to join Congress in a district drawn by the GOP to be solidly Republican.

During the campaign, Self attacked Taylor for “voting for Nancy Pelosi's witch hunt,” and his pinned post on Facebook as of Wednesday morning is an endorsement by Michael Flynn, the former Trump adviser with deep ties to the efforts to overturn the last presidential election. Self also helped Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton avoid trial for felony indictments; Paxton, who sought to overturn the 2020 presidential results, was squeezed into a primary runoff of his own on Tuesday.

In an interview with Texas Monthly during the campaign, Self cheered on the “progress” that he said other states were making in revisiting the 2020 presidential election, incorrectly stating that “one of the chambers in the Wisconsin Legislature has decertified their electors.” (It has not.) He also would not say who won the presidential election.

The only other Texas Republican who supported creating a congressional commission about January 6th, Tony Gonzalez, won the GOP primary for his South Texas seat on Tuesday. Gonzalez had also voted to certify the presidential results.

One of the biggest tests for Republican attacks on election administration was also taking place in North Texas, albeit in a far smaller jurisdiction roughly 100 miles away from Taylor’s district.

Michele Carew, a former elections administrator who was pushed out by conservatives last year, challenged one of the local officials who hounded her: Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, a “Stop the Steal” aficionado who has amplified baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.

Carew was Hood County’s elections administrator during the 2020 presidential election, during which Trump got more than 80 percent of the vote in the county. But conservative activists complained she was not sufficiently committed to cracking down on voter fraud and auditing elections, and tried to oust her, with Lang’s support. (The elections administrator in Hood County is a position appointed by other county officials, including the clerk).

Carew eventually resigned and then chose to confront Lang directly in the Republican primary. While the county clerk in Hood County does not run elections, they have a say in who is appointed to do so, and Carew made a direct appeal against Big Lie politics, warning that her experience was shared by many other elections administrators who also felt harassed and endangered.

“The constant questioning of the 2020 election and the constant spread of lies foster an environment that encourages attacks against election officials,” Carew wrote in The Washington Post last fall, shortly after her resignation. “It’s important for everyone—especially those in positions of authority—to expose outright lies, resist phony suspicions and encourage support for trustworthy local officials who have been put in an impossible position.”

But Carew’s appeal did not resonate with Republican primary voters. Lang easily prevailed, with 60 percent of the vote compared to 20 percent for Carew.

Lang may acquire more power in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election. Some local Republicans have called for eliminating Hood County’s elections administrator office altogether and transferring its duties to the county clerk. But Lang recently signaled that she has already gotten her way without needing to take on running elections directly, thanks to Carew’s ouster and the appointment of Stephanie Cooper, whom Lang supported.

“I think that we’ve done a wonderful job with our latest election administrator,” Lang told a local talk show last month. “She’s working out great.”

The article has been updated in the afternoon of March 2 to reflect the news that Van Taylor dropped out of the runoff, hours after he learned that he would need to face one.