Former Texas state Rep. Matt Rinaldi was elected chairman of the Republican Party of Texas Sunday. Rinaldi will finish out the term of former Chairman Allen West, who resigned ahead of announcing he will primary challenge Gov. Greg Abbott.
Rinaldi’s election is seen as a referendum on West’s divisive leadership, which stirred up GOP infighting on more than one occasion during his 10-month tenure as leader of the state party. West, a former Florida congressman who moved to Texas in 2014, viewed his job as holding Republican lawmakers accountable, even if that meant namecalling or protesting outside of the governor’s mansion.
When Republican Rep. Dade Phelan announced he had support from both Republicans and Democrats to run for Speaker of the House, West called him a “Republican political traitor.” West openly opposed Abbott and the governor’s pandemic response, namely the unconstitutional statewide mask mandate. In another challenge of Abbott’s emergency powers, West joined a lawsuit against Abbott in an attempt to stop the governor’s extension of the early voting period in the 2020 election.
While many conservatives appreciate his outspoken leadership, critics of West see Rinaldi as a better, more fundraising-friendly happy medium – someone who will also hold elected Republican officials accountable, but do the fundraising and party outreach that needs to happen if they want to keep Texas red.
In a speech before the State Republican Executive Committee on Sunday, Rinaldi attempted to straddle this line of accountability and cooperation, saying “We need a chair that will work with — and not for — elected officials.” Like West, Rinaldi also opposed Abbott’s emergency power overreaches, but unlike West, has a proven track record of bringing in minority voters.
As a former state representative from 2015 to 2019, Rinaldi was one of the more conservative House Republicans. He lost his seat in the blue wave of 2018 when Democrat Julie Johnson flipped the North Dallas district. As one of 10 Republican-held House districts in Texas won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, his seat was a prime target of Democrats in 2018.
Prior to that 2018 loss, Rinaldi proved himself to be a Freedom Caucus conservative who could run and win in a diverse, purple district.
“I’m not only a Republican, I’ve been consistently identified as probably the most conservative Republican in the House, if not one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, yet my district is 60 percent minority,” Rinaldi said at an event in 2017. “It’s only 40 percent Anglo, it’s 30 percent Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 10 percent African American. Yet I get elected from this district.”
Texas Right to Life celebrated Rinaldi’s election, calling him a “Pro-Life warrior.”
“The Pro-Life issue continues to massively shape the political demographics of Texas, especially in the largely Hispanic border regions, which are quickly turning red. Matt Rinaldi is a smart and principled leader who is perfect for the job ahead of him,” said Luke Bowen, Texas Right to Life’s political director.
Rinaldi will see out West’s term, which ends next summer, and then plans to run for another full term at the state party’s biennial convention.
“We cannot lose Texas — and will not lose Texas — if we work together,” Rinaldi said in his victory speech.