Up against the wall, Charles Butt! The Jacobins in the GOP have a new enemy, and it’s the 86-year-old chairman of Texas’s beloved grocery chain, H-E-B. This weekend, party officials in four counties in East and Southeast Texas voted to condemn the “Democrat billionaire” for involving himself in “advocating for policies contrary to the Republican Party of Texas platform.” Among Butt’s alleged offenses against the party: 

—Advocating against “election integrity.” (Ahead of the 2020 election, Butt publicly supported Harris County, home to Houston, in its quest to send mail-in ballots to all eligible voters.)

—Lobbying “against parents’ God-given rights and against empowering parents to choose the education that is best for their children.” (It’s unclear what “God-given rights” Butt opposes—in general, the resolution is poorly worded—but otherwise, his apostasy involves contributing to candidates and groups that support public education and oppose private-school vouchers, which would divert tax dollars away from public schools and toward private ones.)

—Sponsoring “drag queen shows for children.” (The resolution doesn’t specify what events it is referencing, but right-wing news sites have accused H-E-B of sponsoring pride events that included drag shows.)

—Donating “millions of dollars against conservatives that want a secure border in Republican Primary election.” (The wording here suggests that there should be a secure border between the Republican primary and the rest of the world—which would seem an idea worth considering. But the underlying issue is that Butt involved himself deeply in the Republican primaries this cycle, contributing about $2.6 million to Republican candidates who support public education and oppose school vouchers. In most of those races, he was heavily outspent by billionaires on the right, including Midland oilman and Christian nationalist Tim Dunn.)

—Accepting food stamps at H-E-B. (No Texas-shaped tortilla chips for poor people!)

To understand how Butt has become a target of so many among the GOP faithful, consider how the party crafts its most sacred document: the party platform, a notoriously long and ideologically extreme text that activists wield like a cudgel against Republican elected officials and candidates. For crimes against the principles outlined in the platform, the Texas GOP has adopted resolutions censuring a who’s who of the party’s top leaders, including—in chronological order—former House Speaker Joe Straus, Congressman Tony Gonzales, state representative Andrew Murr, and House Speaker Dade Phelan. (After contacting the Charles Butt Foundation, a representative for Butt and H-E-B declined our request for an interview.)

The drafting of the platform is an every-other-year affair, in even years. It begins ahead of the biennial state Republican Party convention, during precinct, county, and state Senate district meetings that take place across the state. If the Republican Party convention is a sort of right-wing Burning Man—a gathering of like-minded eccentrics—then the local and regional conventions are tailgating parties, where activists propose and debate resolutions that will be considered at the state convention. The platform is supposed to reflect the ideology of the GOP base, which can be defined, for practical purposes, as the very right-wing 3 percent of Texans who decide Republican primary elections. Though it’s nonbinding, the document is treated with grim seriousness by its authors—and therefore commands at least some respect, or perhaps fear, among elected officials. Platform fundamentalism is a core feature of the Texas Republican Party. 

Enemies targeted in the platform are many and long-standing: immigrants, the United Nations, homosexuality (“an abnormal lifestyle choice”), the Federal Reserve, to name a few. That’s nothing new. What is new is that the long knives are coming out for the figurehead of one of the few Texas institutions held in high esteem by Texans of all stripes. As a brand, H-E-B commands deep loyalty—not just for its abundant, affordable food, generous treatment of employees, friendly service, Selena merch, and Texas-themed everything, but also for the company’s nimble response to crises, including Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19, and the blackouts of 2021. Some Texans have mused that the state would be better managed if we just let H-E-B run it. Condemning Charles Butt is not exactly like rebuking motherhood and apple pie. Butt is a billionaire who has involved himself in politics, so he must accept that slings and arrows will be aimed his way. But it’s also a notable departure from the right’s usual routine of condemning, say, George Soros, an out-of-state, partisan gazillionaire who some critics have targeted in a manner that appeals to antisemites.

Both parties have their billionaires, and their increasing involvement in state, and even local, politics should be cause for concern. Great wealth exerts a gravity all of its own, bending the small-d democratic agenda toward the priorities of the uber-wealthy. But notably, the revolutionaries of the Texas GOP aren’t hollering “J’accuse!” at a campaign finance system rigged to reward those with the most money. That’s because the right wing, in Texas at least, has benefitted much more than the center or the left from an alliance with ideological millionaires and billionaires. For example, Jeff Yass—ever heard of him?—is the richest man in Pennsylvania. He has such love for Texas that he donated $6 million to Greg Abbott, who in turn distributed the record-setting contribution to Republican candidates who swear fealty to the governor’s private-school voucher scheme. Most of those candidates won or forced incumbents into runoffs, a cadre of loyalists who will likely deliver vouchers to the governor and his financiers next year. In the view of his Republican critics, the problem with Butt isn’t that his money is distorting democracy, it’s that he’s playing for the wrong team.

Disclosure: H-E-B advertises in dozens of publications in Texas, including Texas Monthly.