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Published on May 29, 2024
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan Triumphs in Heated Runoff, Signals GOP Rift in Major Political WinSource: Wikipedia/Dade Phelan

In a marked victory over the far-right faction of his party, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan retains his title, fending off firebrand David Covey in a runoff election. Phelan's win is seen as a defeat not only for Covey but also for prominent Republican endorsers such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Trump, who had thrown their weight behind the former Orange County Republican Party chairman. The Texas Tribune reports with all precincts counted, Phelan led the charge by a close 366 votes, a narrow margin that could have triggered a recount. However, Covey conceded the match Tuesday night.

The race was not just a political spat; it highlighted a deep ideological chasm within Texas GOP, between a hard-line conservative faction and a more moderate, establishment arm. The skirmish between Phelan and Covey was one for the books, both sides unloading a deluge of attack ads and fiery rhetoric. In his victory remarks, Phelan took a jab at his detractors saying, "This was a true grassroots effort — not the fake grassroots." His challenger, Covey, was a fresh face in the political arena, but managed to outpace the two-term House speaker in the initial March primary.

Phelan's resilience in the face of adversity, especially after taking a stand against Paxton, whom he backed for impeachment on corruption charges, has stunned some observers. The fallout from that decision coupled with his willingness to engage across the aisle had placed a target on his back. Despite this, he maintained the backing of both his party's establishment — who poured millions into his campaign — and surprisingly, considerable Democratic support as well. Paxton, who has been vocal in his criticism of Phelan, claimed after the results that the speaker had "blatantly stolen an election from the hard-working people of his district" by courting Democrat support, as per the Texas Tribune.

While Phelan's position as speaker for the 2025 session appears secure now, the rift within the Republican ranks could have significant ramifications for the Texas political landscape. His victory signals a push back against the ultraconservative wave looking to cement ideological purity over pragmatic governance. Lt. Gov. Patrick, a figurehead of this wing, lamented Phelan's actions saying, "He threw them under the bus, but he still wants to drive," indicative of the ongoing battle for the heart of the Texas GOP.

As Texas moves forward, the implications of such a closely contested and divisive political struggle will likely resonate throughout the state's governance. Phelan, navigating choppey political waters, has emerged not only as a survivor but as a symbol of resistance against a brand of politics favoring uncompromising partisanship. His win underscores the ongoing tussle for control and direction within a Republican party at a crossroads – struggling between the allure of transformative, albeit divisive, policies, and a tradition of conservative but more inclusive political thought.