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Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi won’t seek reelection

By Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi won’t seek reelection” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi announced Friday that he will not seek reelection, ending a three-year tenure that was marked by an escalating GOP civil war, white supremacy scandal and historic 2024 primary gains for the party’s right wing.

“After almost three years serving as Chairman, traveling the state and spending many long nights on the road, it is time for me to focus on my obligations as a husband to my wife, Corley, and as a father to my six-year-old son, Rush,” Rinaldi said in a Friday afternoon statement. “I ran for State Chairman on a platform of growing the party, increasing its influence and making it one that effectively amplifies the voice of grassroots Republicans. I am happy to report we were successful on all accounts.”

Rinaldi has chaired the Texas GOP since 2021, when he was elected by the party’s executive committee to replace outgoing Chair Allen West. He was then reelected by delegates of the 2022 state GOP convention.

His announcement comes amid an ongoing civil war between the Texas GOP’s far-right and more moderate, but still deeply conservative, wings. Rinaldi has been a key player in that fight as chairman, often accusing more moderate Republicans such as House Speaker Dade Phelan of being insufficiently conservative.

A staunch ally of the party’s far-right wing and its billionaire funders, Rinaldi was particularly active in the 2024 primary elections, in which a dark-red wave swept many House incumbents out of office.

Rinaldi noted the outcomes of the 2024 primaries in his Friday announcement, calling it a “political earthquake” that elevated “grassroots members” above “lobbyists, office holders and corporate donors.”

Rinaldi also vowed in his statement to help elect his successor at this year’s state GOP convention. Minutes after Rinaldi announced his retirement, Abraham George announced he would run for party chair. Rinaldi — as well as Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Rinaldi allies — then endorsed George, who lost in his 2024 primary to Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas, by 5 percentage points. George will now face current Texas GOP Vice Chair Dana Myers to lead the party.

Reaction to Rinaldi’s announcement was mixed — and emblematic of the Texas GOP’s internal strife. Paxton called him “tremendous,” and Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, praised Rinaldi for “helping reform the party” before urging Republicans to support George’s run for chair.

Others said his departure is an opportunity for the Texas GOP to change course.

“While I wish Matt all the best, make no mistake that this is a great and welcomed opportunity for us to elevate and elect a conservative leader who will be laser-focused on uniting all Republicans around our shared mission of defeating liberals up and down the ballot in every corner of the state,” Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican and Rinaldi nemesis, told The Texas Tribune.

Leaders of the Texas Democratic Party also blasted Rinaldi in a Friday evening statement, accusing him of “plunging the party into the depths of MAGA extremism” and “leading the charge to defund public education, curtail voting rights and restrict reproductive healthcare decisions for Texans.”

Rinaldi served two terms in the House representing HD 115, north of Dallas, before losing in the 2018 general election to Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch. As a legislator, he was a reliable ally of the state’s far right and Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, two West Texas oil billionaires who also bankrolled Rinaldi’s career in the House. Rinaldi was perhaps best known for calling immigration authorities on protesters during a House proceeding on a bill that cracked down on so-called “sanctuary cities.”

As party chair, Rinaldi routinely amplified attacks against Phelan and other more-moderate members, castigating the speaker for allowing Democrats to chair a handful of House committees and accusing him of being drunk while presiding over House business last year.

He also offered key support to Paxton during last year’s impeachment proceedings, and blasted Phelan and other House Republicans in the wake of Paxton’s acquittal by the Texas Senate.

As the civil war escalated in the last months of 2023, some in the Texas GOP worried that Rinaldi had made the party too reliant on contributions from Dunn and Wilks. Rinaldi’s decision to endorse and campaign for challengers to fellow Republicans during this year’s primaries also drew the ire of some in the Texas GOP who said party leaders should be more neutral.

Tensions over Rinaldi’s chairmanship came to a head late last year, following a scandal involving white supremacists and antisemites in the Texas GOP. In October, The Texas Tribune reported that Jonathan Stickland, then the leader of Dunn and Wilks’ main political action committee, Defend Texas Liberty, had hosted prominent white supremacist and Adolf Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes for several hours.

Rinaldi was also spotted outside the office building while Fuentes was inside, but denied knowing he was there and said he would never meet with Fuentes. The meeting prompted Phelan and 60 other GOP House members to demand that fellow Republicans redirect donations from Defend Texas Liberty to pro-Israel charities. Roughly half of the Texas GOP’s executive committee also called on the party to cut ties with Defend Texas Liberty.

Amid the scandal — and subsequent reporting by the Tribune that uncovered deeper ties between white supremacists and Defend Texas Liberty — Rinaldi routinely attacked the PAC’s critics, including Phelan. Earlier this year, the Tribune reported that Rinaldi was simultaneously working as an attorney for Wilks, one of Defend Texas Liberty’s two main funders.

Responding to the scandals in November, the Texas GOP’s executive committee narrowly defeated a measure that would have banned the party from associating with Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and antisemites. Myers, the party’s VP who is running to replace Rinaldi, supported the measure. Rinaldi did not vote, but downplayed the need for it by saying that antisemitism was only a problem on the left.

A watered-down version of the measure was adopted earlier this year. Dunn and Wilks meanwhile spun off a new political action committee, Texans United For a Conservative Majority, that backed a slate of successful candidates in the 2024 GOP primaries — giving the billionaires perhaps more power than ever over the Texas GOP and state Legislature.

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