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Rep. Allen West, of Florida's 18th District, speaks in West Palm Beach, Fla., on August 23, 2012.
Rep. Allen West, of Florida's 18th District, speaks in West Palm Beach, Fla., on August 23, 2012.Tom Williams / AP

Why Allen West's new gubernatorial campaign in Texas matters

GOP governors in Texas, Idaho, and Ohio are facing primary rivals because they took the pandemic more seriously than the right would've liked.

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In the first year of the U.S. war in Iraq, then-Lt. Col. Allen West was accused of abusing an Iraqi detainee. West was charged and fined over the incident in 2003, and he accepted the judgment.

But he also received political support from many U.S. conservatives, and West parlayed that backing into an unusual political career, including serving one term as a Florida congressman before losing a re-election bid nearly a decade ago. A few years later, West eyed a primary campaign against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), before ultimately passing on the race.

He eventually relocated to Texas, where he was elected to lead the state Republican Party, though his tenure became deeply controversial: West often took aim at his own GOP allies, apparently in the hopes of promoting himself and his ambitions, and took a variety of steps -- with varying degrees of subtlety -- to affiliate the state party with the crackpot QAnon delusion.

Last month, after less than a year as chairman of the Texas Republican Party, West resigned and hinted at his interest in another bid for elected office. We now know it wasn't just idle chatter.

Republican Allen West, the former Florida congressman and firebrand who rode into office on the tea party wave a decade ago, said Sunday that he will run for governor of Texas in a bid to again seize on restless anger from the right.

His odds aren't great: West will run against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott in a Republican primary, despite the governor's enormous war chest and support from Donald Trump.

But of particular interest is the rationale behind West's criticisms of Abbott. By most measures, the Texas governor is among the nation's most far-right chief executives, but West has nevertheless chided Abbott as insufficiently conservative for one important reason: the governor was not indifferent toward the pandemic.

As the Texas Tribune noted, West "sued Abbott for extending the early voting period due to the coronavirus pandemic," and "protested outside the Governor's Mansion over pandemic-related shutdowns."

And now, of course, West has decided that he, not Abbott, should be the Texas GOP's gubernatorial nominee.

As we recently discussed, there's a lot of this going around. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is facing a primary fight in large part because he took COVID-19 seriously.

Similarly, Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) is facing an intra-party challenge from incumbent Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R), who also kicked off her candidacy in May. As a local report explained, "McGeachin garnered national attention last fall over a gun-toting, Bible-holding appearance on an Idaho Freedom Foundation video, in which elected officials criticized Little for emergency health orders over the coronavirus and questioned whether the pandemic exists."

As the pandemic started in earnest last year, it seemed hard to imagine Republican governors facing primary rivals for caring too much about the public-health crisis, and yet, here we are.