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A year after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, one Texas Republican congressman is facing a spirited primary fueled by anger from his right over his vote to investigate the insurrection.
U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has attracted a group of March primary challengers who are running on his support for a bipartisan independent commission to probe that deadly day, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in protest of his reelection loss.
Taylor was one of two Texas Republicans who voted for the commission, though the other, Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, has not drawn as crowded of a primary. The proposed commission never made it through the Senate, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., later formed a select committee to investigate the Capitol attack.
Taylor voted against that committee and says it was exactly the scenario he was trying to prevent by supporting the independent commission — handing the probe over to Pelosi — but his opponents are unswayed. They argue the commission still would have enabled Democrats to hound Republicans for months and politically damage them in the midterms.
Taylor’s vote for the commission “is a huge issue,” said one of the challengers, former Collin County Judge Keith Self. “It is the red line for many people in their vote against Van Taylor.”
The contested primary is something of a political whiplash for Taylor, a former state lawmaker with a staunchly conservative record who got to Congress in 2018 and became a target of national Democrats in 2020. He won comfortably, airing TV ads that touted himself as “Mr. Bipartisan,” and now finds himself in a district that was redrawn this fall to be redder — and more fertile territory for primary opposition.
Zach Barrett, president of the Collin County Conservative Republicans, said it remains to be seen whether the commission vote alone is enough to sink Taylor. The local GOP group plans to endorse in the primary but has not made a decision yet.
“For us in the little bubble of grassroots, [the commission vote] is a big thing, but I don’t know in the grand scheme of things, when it comes to the average — even Republican — voter” how much it matters, said Barrett. “He’s voting right when it comes to the policies for the most part … but he does piss people off with the Jan. 6 commission.”
The insurrection on Jan. 6 came as lawmakers in the Capitol were meeting to certify the 2020 presidential election results. It followed weeks of Trump and other high-profile Republicans using false or misleading information to cast doubt on whether Joe Biden was the legitimate winner, even though there is no evidence of fraud on the level that would have affected the result. Trump supporters stormed the Capitol doors, damaging property and forcing lawmakers from both parties to take cover. Five people were killed in the melee. Hundreds have been criminally charged.
Since then, many conservative politicians have sought to downplay it. Just 35 House Republicans voted in favor of the commission. Two of them, U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, now serve on a select committee looking into the events and have faced severe backlash from members of their own party — and the former president himself.
Taylor’s opponents have also largely sought to downplay the Jan. 6 attack, arguing it was not as dangerous as Democrats and the media have portrayed it to be.
“If that was an insurrection, we don’t know how to throw insurrections anymore,” Self said in a tongue-in-cheek comment.
Taylor was among only five Texas Republicans who voted that day to accept the 2020 election results, saying it would have set a dangerous precedent. He said the events of the day “will haunt our nation for years to come” and that the attack was “destructive to the democracy I fought to defend” as a Marine.
Still, he later joined most House Republicans in opposing Trump’s impeachment over his role in inciting the riot.
In addition to Self, Taylor’s primary foes include Suzanne Harp, a Dallas businesswoman whose son is chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. Two lesser-known Republicans, Rickey Williams and Jeremy Ivanovskis, are also running against Taylor.
Self’s campaign website says Taylor “went Washington” by supporting the commission. Harp launched her campaign saying Taylor “abandoned” Trump with the vote. And Williams lists the vote as a top issue to “can Van.”
Self was endorsed last month by a daughter of Taylor’s predecessor in the seat, the late Sam Johnson, who said her dad’s seat “has been compromised.”
Taylor is still the favorite in the primary for the 3rd Congressional District, which covers fast-growing Collin County in suburban Dallas. He ended 2021 with over $1.2 million cash on hand, according to his campaign — his opponents have not had to disclose their fundraising yet — and he has assembled a list of conservative endorsements topped by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
While Trump has sought revenge against some Republicans who have criticized him over Jan. 6, he has stayed out of Taylor’s primary so far. Among Taylor’s endorsements is one of Trump’s staunchest allies in the House, Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, the president’s former doctor.
Regardless, no other race in Texas this year seems to more reflect the debate within the GOP over the fallout from Jan. 6.
Harp said a bigger issue is the treatment of those who have been arrested in connection with the riot, which includes a number of North Texans.
“What hits us all at the end of the day is that we really care about due process,” she said. “It’s not really a Democratic or Republican thing.”
Neither appears particularly concerned with investigating the attack. Asked how Congress should have responded to Jan. 6 if not with the commission that Taylor supported, Harp countered that Congress should have been more responsive to the “summer of love,” a derisive reference to the racial justice protests in 2020 that turned violent in some cases.
The commission that Taylor voted for would have been equally split between five Democrats and five Republicans. He cited that in explaining his vote at the time, saying he wanted to make sure Republicans would have a seat at the table and that they would not cede the probe to Democrats.
Taylor memorably defended the vote in an interview with Mark Davis, a prominent conservative radio host in Dallas, who expressed skepticism of Taylor’s reasoning throughout.
“Everybody that voted for you is pissed off at you today, Van,” Davis said, telling Taylor that he loves him but that it was a “bad, bad vote.”
While the commission was never created, Pelosi’s select committee has been up and running since July — and making plenty of headlines as it scrutinizes how much of a role Trump and his allies played in the Capitol attack. Taylor opposed the creation of the committee, which he emphasized in a statement for this story.
“The continued partisan attacks and unprecedented power grabs from Speaker Pelosi underscore why I voted against her January 6 select committee every time it came up for a vote,” Taylor said. “In fact, I supported the independent commission, which died in the Senate and was never formed, because it would have been structured with equal Republicans and Democrats so Republicans could block Nancy Pelosi from politicizing the commission in the same way she is doing now.”
Self said the distinction between the commission that Taylor supported and the committee that is currently working “does not occur” to voters. In any case, he said, Taylor was “naive because once Nancy Pelosi got a hold of that commission, she was going to — and they are going to — harass Republicans until November this year.”
Whether the commission vote alone is enough to sink Taylor remains to be seen. His primary challengers are also attacking him on other fronts, including being one of five Texas Republicans to vote to remove all Confederate statues from public display at the U.S. Capitol.