Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, the legendary bomb-thrower who carried the far right’s banner in Congress before the Tea Party wave and the Donald Trump era reshaped the Republican caucus, announced Monday night that he would challenge scandal-ridden Attorney General Ken Paxton in the March primary rather than seek a 10th term.
Gohmert joins Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman in trying to deny renomination to the Trump-endorsed incumbent. Meanwhile, another contender, state Rep. Matt Krause, ended his campaign the day after Gohmert's entry and announced that he would instead compete in the open-seat race for Tarrant County district attorney. If no one wins a majority of the vote, a primary runoff would take place in late May.
Gohmert, like Paxton’s other foes, is hoping that the attorney general's many ethical woes will give him a natural opening: The congressman attacked his new opponent as someone who only “started working harder after so many of his most honorable and very top people in the AG's office left, complaining of criminal conduct.”
Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 for securities fraud (the case is still awaiting trial) and is reportedly under FBI investigation over unrelated allegations that he used his office to aid a wealthy ally in exchange for favors. He's also facing a whistleblower lawsuit from several former senior aides who say they were fired after they reported Paxton’s actions to law enforcement.
To date, though, Paxton has very much looked like the primary frontrunner over both Guzman, who isn't well-known, and Bush, who is—but has his own weaknesses with the party's nativist base. An October YouGov poll showed Paxton beating Bush by a giant 54-18 margin, while a newer UT Tyler poll gave the attorney general a smaller 46-32 edge.
Gohmert, for his part, surprised pretty much everyone on Nov. 9 when he revealed that he was trying to raise $1 million in 10 days for a potential campaign against Paxton, though in true Gohmert fashion he tried to unveil his plans with a link to a livestream that didn’t work. His website also failed at basic math by asking “100,000 citizens to send $100 each (or any other amount to get to $1,000,000) by November 19.”
The congressman was supposed to make an announcement on Nov. 19 on conservative radio host Mark Davis’ show, but he naturally never called in. On Monday evening, though, Gohmert finally divulged his intentions, and for once, his unveiling appears to have gone off without a hitch. He also declared that he’d “reached our initial goal of raising $1 million,” though he didn’t say whether he'd managed to do so during his self-imposed 10-day window.
Whether Gohmert wins or loses his next race, however, neither the House GOP leadership nor his Democratic colleagues are likely to miss him on Capitol Hill. Gohmert wasn't always the lightning-rod he's known as now, though. After he won the East Texas-based 1st District in 2004 by unseating conservative Democrat Max Sandlin in a seat that Republicans had just redrawn under the infamous DeLaymander, he attracted little attention for years.
Things began to change in 2010, though, when he went on CNN and claimed, without any evidence, that terrorists dwelling in America were raising “terror babies,” a phenomenon he said was a “gaping hole in the security of our country.” Gohmert evidently enjoyed his moment in the sun since he soon became nationally known for his many offensive and bizarre rants. This included him:
The only group that might have loathed Gohmert more than progressives may have been his nominal leaders. Gohmert, as Tim Alberta recounted in his book American Carnage, once tried to convince then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor to bring a birther-inspired bill to the floor by asking, “Kenya hear me? Kenya hear me?” Speaker John Boehner reacted to his antics by angrily musing, “Louie Gohmert is insane. There’s not a functional brain in there.”
The Texan thought little of Boehner as well. In 2013, Gohmert joined the attempted coup against the speaker by casting his vote for the top job for his former colleague Allen West, who had just lost reelection in Florida. (West has since moved to Texas and is currently waging a longshot primary campaign against Gov. Greg Abbott.) In 2015, Gohmert himself offered up his own name as an alternative to Boehner, but he only earned the support of two other members. Gohmert also opposed putting Paul Ryan in the speaker’s chair after Boehner resigned later that year.
One GOP leader Gohmert took to with gusto, though, is Trump. The congressman not only has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Big Lie, he filed a since-dismissed lawsuit seeking to compel Mike Pence to interfere with the electoral vote count on Jan. 6.
Gohmert has also portrayed the insurrectionists as unarmed protesters who are being targeted by the Justice Department and has even unsuccessfully tried to visit some in prison. Last month, Rolling Stone reported that he was one of several GOP congressmen who'd had discussions with the planners of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack, an allegation he denies.
For Texas Republicans, a disregard for the law may in fact be precisely the qualification they're looking for in their state's top law enforcement official. After all, just look at Paxton.