If it wasn’t obvious from the beginning that Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West was just using his new position as a springboard for higher office, it should be now. After less than a year at the helm of the largest Republican party in the world, West has announced he is stepping down to, “prayerfully reflect on a new chapter in his already distinguished career.”
In other words, it looks like the rumors that West is going to run for governor against Greg Abbott or perhaps some other statewide office are probably true. Which has left Republicans wondering: Did he ever even want the RPT job to begin with? Or was it just a stepping stone to get to where he really wants?
West rose to prominence as a one-term congressman from Florida who gained a national audience with his bombastic statements and frequent appearances on Fox News. After having his district redrawn and failing to win re-election, West moved to Texas to head up the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think-tank which shuttered its doors soon after West took over.
It was never a secret that West had political ambitions in Texas. Ever since his arrival in the Lone Star State, his name has been bandied about in Republican circles as a potential candidate for a number of offices. A primary challenge to Senator John Cornyn, or maybe another run for U.S. Congress? West had something different in mind.
In 2019 he made his move, announcing that he would challenge incumbent RPT Chairman James Dickey. For the most part, Dickey was everything you want in a party chairman: accessible, an extremely hard worker, and someone who didn’t seek the limelight. Dickey was a workhorse. He was the first chairman to spend significant time at the Texas Capitol lobbying for Republican priorities. However, towards the latter end of his tenure, he became perceived by many in the GOP’s insurgent wing as too cozy with establishment politicians such as Abbott and then-speaker Dennis Bonnen. Dickey also presided over the complete and unmitigated disaster that was the virtual 2020 Republican state convention.
Enter Allen West. A talented politician and brilliant orator, he mesmerized Republican activists with his personal charisma and soaring rhetoric, riding a cult of personality to the top of the RPT and defeating the embattled Dickey handily.
But if Dickey was a work horse, West quickly proved himself to be a show horse.
Before running for RPT Chairman, West had never attended a meeting of the State Republican Executive Committee (the governing body of the RPT over which he now presided), and it quickly became apparent that he did not fully understand how the organization worked. He completely railroaded the SREC, running the RPT with a top-down, “my way or the highway” mentality more in line with the military chain of command rather than a deliberative body governed by Robert’s Rules of Order.
And if Dickey was perceived as being too cozy with certain elected officials, the pugilistic West was the opposite, never missing an opportunity to lambast Republican officeholders. While the RPT chairman should be willing to hold Republican politicians accountable and advocate for passage of GOP priorities into law, to be an effective party chairman you also need to have at least a constructive working relationship with Republican candidates and elected officials. After all, it is his or her job to ensure the GOP nominees are elected in the general election. West on the other hand seemed to be at war with almost every Republican officeholder throughout his term.
Although West’s attacks on Republican officeholders were ostensibly in pursuit of getting the GOP legislative priorities passed, unlike his predecessor, West was rarely seen at the Capitol during the 87th Legislative Session. While he takes credit for the passage of Constitutional Carry and the Heartbeat Bill, it’s unclear what West ever actually did to help get them passed other than issue press releases.
Instead, West spent most of his time as RPT Chairman traveling around the state on the party’s dime, holding rallies, promoting his brand, and selling books. In other words, acting more like a candidate for office than a party chairman.
No stranger to controversy, West often courted the right-wing fringe, echoing Q anon talking points and appearing at rallies with conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones. There was also the time he flirted with the idea of secession. After West took over, the phrase “we are the storm” began appearing on RPT branding, which could be interpreted as a reference to the “storm” anticipated by the Qanon movement (although West denies this and says it refers to a poem). Even if it is just a coincidence, it is horrible branding.
West used the RPT as a platform to boost his own profile, picking high-profile fights with other Republicans and throwing rhetorical bombs to get his name in the press, all while he neglected the legwork of things like voter registration and fundraising (the “boring” and unglamorous things that make an organization run).
As a result, the party’s finances are in shambles as we head into the critical 2022 midterm election cycle. According to data guru Derek Ryan, West is leaving the RPT with $342,220 less in the bank than the party had two years ago:
And now, just like that, he is moving on, in search of greener pastures. It doesn’t seem like he was ever really interested in the nuts and bolts work of building the party. The RPT essentially just became a vehicle for West’s own self promotion; at the expense of Republican donors and enabled by his supporters on the SREC. Apparently, for West, being RPT chairman wasn’t actually the goal. It was a means to another end.
Texas Republicans got played.
Turns out West is just another self-serving politician who used his position to benefit his own political career. His supporters who genuinely believed he would lead the RPT to ever greater heights were merely a rung in the ladder West is attempting to climb to higher office.
Perhaps it would be one thing if West decided to run for higher office after faithfully finishing out his term, leaving the RPT in a better place than he found it. But leaving before his term is even halfway done is objectively a poor look.
Now, it’s no secret that the publisher of The Forty-Five News is not a fan of a lot of things Abbott has done. I’ve also criticized Lt. Governor Dan Patrick from time to time, and pretty much every other statewide official for that matter. But West actions throughout his political career reveal what truly motivates him- would he really be an improvement over Texas’ current cadre of personalities?
West will certainly face an uphill climb if he decides to run against Abbott. The latter recently picked up the endorsement of former president Donald Trump and sits atop a Texas-sized campaign war chest, along with all the other advantages offered by incumbency. He will also not have the lane challenging Abbott to himself: former state senator Don Huffines is already running against Abbott and has locked up the support of a number of the same tea party leaders who helped West get elected RPT Chairman. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has also hinted at a gubernatorial run.
I suppose West could slip into a lower statewide office like Land Commissioner, which another ambitious politician, George P. Bush, is vacating to run for attorney general. However, would Land Commissioner really be that much of a step up from RPT Chairman?
Speculation over all the potential scenarios aside, let’s just imagine for a moment the dust has settled after the 2022 election and we wake up in a world in which West has actually been elected governor: How long until he gets tired of that and wants to run for something else? After all, the 2024 presidential election is just around the corner…