One of the joys of keeping a close eye on Texas politics is that quite often one of the human oddities you know too much about becomes someone everyone else knows too little about—someone the BBC World Service The BBC is trying to explain to listeners in Kenya. To provide context for this motley campaign—we don’t always send everything we can to Washington—we are constantly compiling an encyclopedia of our political exports.
In his long political career, Charles Eugene “Chip” Roy has rarely been one of the most high-profile or spectacular examples of That Guy in Texas—see: Louis Homert, Briscoe Kane, Steve Stockman. He prefers to choose his battles, a trait that has given him more influence and stamina than some of his more stunt-prone contemporaries. This week, he entered into one of his biggest battles in years as he is the most prominent Texan on the congressional team that began the ongoing ritual humiliation and sacrifice of would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Roy and a small group of like-minded freedom fighters effectively vetoed the Bakersfield, California representative, whom they consider a weak-willed “Republican in name only,” for an incredible eight rounds of voting.
Typically, Texas politicians who fall into the “That Guy” category are opposed to the system and the establishment, which they say is a threat to the Texas values that many “These Boys” have devoted their lives to defending. Born in the DC swamp in Bethesda, Maryland and raised in Virginia, Roy does just that, but he’s a prominent member of the sub-category of those guys who are also consummate insiders. He is a miniature of his longtime mentor and ally, Ted Cruz: a seasoned upper-class aspiring out-of-state politician who rose to power on the back of a popular populist image and moniker. Now they are even experimenting with facial hair.
I. Early life and education
Roy grew up an hour from D.C. and graduated from the University of Virginia. He spent several years in finance before moving on to the University of Texas Law School. Once here, he got hooked on John Cornyn’s 2002 Senate campaign, perhaps in the hope that it would get him back on the Beltway. He attributes his decision to dedicate his life to politics to the 9/11 attacks, another thing America can blame Mohamed Atta for (along with Ted Cruz’s decision to stop listening to classic rock).
II. Early career
Roy marinated in the state of Cornina in the Senate for much of the remainder of the decade. Then, after a brief stint as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he became a one-man think tank and wrote a book by then Gov. Rick Perry in 2010. Fed up! Roy’s thin 220-page opus argued for the most popular ideas of the tea party movement at the time, including that Social Security was likely unconstitutional and that the Seventeenth Amendment allowing popular election of senators was a big mistake. Roy probably expected the book to herald Perry’s rise to the presidency, after which Roy could no doubt expect a brilliant job in the White House.
It didn’t happen, but when the Lord closes one door, He opens another. Perry was an imperfect messenger for the tea party agenda, but Cruz was great. When Cruz, who met Roy during his tenure as Texas Solicitor General, entered the Senate in 2013, Roy became his chief of staff. Having worked for most of the last decade for a senator, Roy knew how to break things, and he did. He helped devise one of the most daring gambits ever proposed by a newly elected senator: forcibly shutting down the federal government and trying to keep it closed until Congress defunds Obamacare.
This plan had no chance of success and deeply irritated other Republicans. Roy said it didn’t stop funding for the Affordable Care Act just because the weak-willed “arm twisters” in the Senate weren’t prepared enough to shoot a hostage and stand firm until the Democrats gave in. But while the ploy failed, it did put Cruz’s name on the map – and, in addition to his name, Roy’s name. A few years later, Roy was scheduled to run for Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. But then he antagonized his boss by quitting Cruz’s staff in what both men described as a mostly amicable breakup over tactics and strategy.
In 2015, Roy continued his Forrest Gump-style foray into the offices of prominent Texas politicians, serving as Assistant Attorney General to newly elected Ken Paxton. Paxton, whose long tenure in office was marred by ethical violations, allegations and allegations great and small, never had a better reputation for being hard-working or a thinker, so Roy quickly became the object of perception that he was, in fact, a true AG. Paxton didn’t like it. The two quarreled over a loan: in one bizarre incident, Paxton wrote in a government report that his plane ticket to Washington to testify before the Supreme Court cost less taxpayer money than Roy’s. Paxton soon fired Roy, leaving him on the payroll. Continuing to siphon public money, small-government campaigner Roy returned to work on the pro-Cruz political action committee.
III. US house
In 2018, Roy once again bet to return, like salmon, to the upstream place where he spawned: the Beltway. This time as a congressman. Running for a vacant seat in the safe Republican district west of Austin, Cruz-backed Roy made it through the eighteen-member GOP primary with relative ease. (It also helped with support from the Growth Club, a prominent right-wing PKK and campaign arm of the Liberty House of Representatives.) Campaign coverage compared him to a mini-Cruise, but in truth, the two men had different trajectories. Cruz, punished by failing to get the only job he ever really wanted in 2016, often looked like a battered puppy in those days, playing his greatest hits for tips in Mar-a-Lago. Roy made peace with Cruise’s kidnapper, Donald Trump, but he was still a rebel. Upon taking office, the rookie congressman assumed he was a conservative version of Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In Congress, Roy continued his strong independent streak, earning the title of “obstructionist”, which is a Congressional euphemism for “one who disobeys”. He’s not afraid to annoy his like-minded co-workers and occasionally takes a hard line that even Roy’s haters bow down to doing something they find downright deplorable. In 2019, he expressed his dissatisfaction with some innocuous debate over spending bills by putting forward a postponement proposal, causing members of Congress to rush into the hall after what they were doing to vote against it and keep the House in session, great etiquette. a violation that earned him the enmity of his party comrades. He also showed a willingness to turn against old allies. When seven members of his leadership team accused Paxton of taking a bribe in 2020, Roy urged him to resign, something most Republicans in Austin were unwilling to do. (Paxton denied the accusation.)
When it comes to Roy’s personal politics or ideology, there are no compromises. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roy urged the US to achieve “herd immunity” — through mass infection — as quickly as possible and not wait for a vaccine that would minimize economic disruption but lead to a huge number of additional deaths. In 2022, he was one of three members of Congress to vote against a bill making lynching a federal hate crime. (The bill, he said, only served “to advance the agenda.”) The following month, at a congressional hearing on violence against Asian Americans in the aftermath of the Atlanta mass shooting, Roy captured the hearing with a bizarre tangent about the “Chicoms” threat. Cold War slang for the Chinese Communist Party and upheld the legality of lynching as a tool to catch the “bad guys”.
But where he proved most rebellious was with Trump. After the 2020 presidential campaign, the congressman first called on Trump’s chief of staff to present “evidence” that the election results were stolen, and then ultimately denounced those, including Cruz, who called for the election results to be stopped. Roy even cited Trump’s conduct that led to the Capitol riots as grounds for impeachment, but in his maddening turn of events to which he is so accustomed, he did not vote for impeachment.
In short, most of what you might find annoying, arrogant, idiotic, commendable or heroic about Cruz’s first brilliant term in Congress happened while Roy was his chief of staff. And while Cruz slowly faded into the background, Roy became a congressman to take on the mantle of obstructionist. He’s as outspoken and infuriating as ever, but unlike the Louis Gomerts of the world, he cares more about influencing the process than screaming. He is a hardline ideologue but not a supporter, which makes him an unusual figure in DC. So, naturally, he has become one of the loudest figures currently impaling Kevin McCarthy with a large ceremonial spike.
IV. Speaker of the House vote
Roy did not direct the coup against McCarthy per se, but he was naturally involved in it. He demanded concessions and promises, including the end of US aid to Ukraine and a new way of doing business from McCarthy, to end the confusion. On Wednesday morning, Roy told radio host Mark Davis that McCarthy didn’t have the guts to really break the Swamp Cartel. He needs a leader to get to the White House with a brick bat like Cruz tried to do in 2013. sicario? On Wednesday, he nominated Congressman Byron Donalds for Speaker, arguing that the Florida man “overcame adversity” and “dedicated his life to advancing the cause of his family and this country.”
As Roy maneuvered Tuesday, Justin Amash, the painfully candid former Republican congressman from Michigan who announced his candidacy for speaker, tweeted that Roy, with his new Van Dyke haircut, looked like a “mirror universe version” of a man Amash had served with a few years earlier. But Roy, of course, hasn’t changed. He’s been That Guy all along.