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Political novice Brandon Gill seeks to be Trump’s biggest advocate in Congress

Brandon Gill, Republican nominee for U.S. House District 26
Texas Tribune
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Brandon Gill, Republican nominee for U.S. House District 26

WASHINGTON — Brandon Gill is on a glide path to becoming the next congressman of Texas’ ruby red 26th Congressional District, after beating a crowded pool of Republicans in the primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess.

For those wondering how the likely congressional newcomer intends to conduct himself on Capitol Hill, Gill says it’s simple — he will follow Donald Trump’s lead.

After all, it’s worked for him so far.

The 30-year-old launched himself to the national stage after running an openly pro-Trump news site and working with right-wing political commentator Dinesh D’Souza — his father-in-law — on a documentary that claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Naturally, he received Trump’s backing in the GOP primary, which was supplemented by endorsements from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and the House Freedom Caucus.

The primary race was a bitter fight, with Republicans in and out of the state pouring millions of dollars to prevent Gill from winning. Eleven candidates fought for the nomination, some with years working in public service in the region, each trying to counter Gill’s blessing from Trump.

But they couldn’t out-Trump Gill. Gill stunned by winning his primary outright, avoiding a runoff.

The district, which includes suburbs north of Dallas and Fort Worth and stretches to Oklahoma, is extremely Republican, meaning Gill is likely a shoe-in come November. The district voted by more than 19 percentage points for Trump in the 2020 election. Former Navy officer Ernest Lineberger III is the only candidate running on the Democratic ticket. He has raised less than $5,000 from individual contributions. That’s less than Gill spent just for travel expenses for one of his consultants.

Gill is promising to be Trump’s biggest advocate in Congress — which is a competitive role among Texans considering U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls wore a T-shirt with the former president’s face on it to the State of the Union.

Gill said his biggest policy objectives include securing the border, slashing federal spending and combating the “weaponization of the federal government” against conservatives and Christians — goals he stressed put him in line with Trump. The policy goals are largely in line with most newer House Republicans and are similar to those fellow front runners Scott Armey, a former Denton County judge, and John Huffman, mayor of Southlake, outlined before the primary.

“What President Trump is looking for right now, more than anything else, is he's looking for somebody who's going to go to bat for him in Congress, who's going to defend him,” Gill said. “Because the left is coming after President Trump with every single thing that they have.”

Gill’s critics accused him of being too new to the district, not having any political experience and taking cues from Trump — a New Yorker-turned-Floridian — rather than his new home in North Texas.

Gill rejects the criticism as a fallacy.

“The reality is that the priorities of President Trump align with the people of the district,” Gill said when asked if he would ever reject Trump’s position if it conflicted with the district’s interests. “Texas 26 Is Trump country.”

A new face in town

Gill is not from North Texas, but he likes to cast his election as a cultural homecoming. Raised on a cattle ranch outside of Abilene roughly three hours west of the 26th district, Gill graduated from Eula High School with a class of 24 students. He then went on to Dartmouth where he met his now-wife Danielle D’Souza, daughter of Dinesh D’Souza, before working on Wall Street for Japanese securities firm Nomura.

Gill returned to Texas, settling in North Texas in late 2022 — almost a year before Burgess announced his departure from Congress. He said he moved back to be closer to family and escape the crime of New York City. Gill insists he didn’t know about Burgess’ retirement beforehand and that no one had recruited him to replace the longtime Republican.

“It feels very providential. But you know, nobody had any clue this seat was going to open up. Yeah, we certainly didn't,” Gill said.

Gill moved back to Texas the same year he entered the political scene, working on the production and marketing of “2,000 Mules,” a documentary by D’Souza that claimed the 2020 election was stolen. It’s a favorite of Trump’s, who has promoted the documentary and hosted a screening of it at his Mar-A-Lago estate. The documentary insinuates that large numbers of activists stuffed ballot drop locations based on cell phone data. The documentary became popular among right-wing officials in Texas, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Numerous court cases debunked the documentary. True The Vote, the right-wing Texas watchdog group whose claims formed much of the film’s basis, admitted to a Georgia judge that it did not have evidence to support its claims.

That hasn’t stopped Gill from continuing to believe the documentary.

“I think that the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump,” Gill said when asked last month.

When asked if he would accept the results of the primary election, Gill said: “If they’re legitimate.”

“We'll take a look at all the evidence at the time and we'll decide when it happens,” Gill said.

Gill also launched an openly pro-Trump news website, the DC Enquirer, in 2022 that further spread the claims made in “2000 Mules.” The website now features pieces from major figures in Trump’s orbit, including lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who was on Trump’s defense team during his first impeachment trial, and Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager. Gill brags that Trump is an avid reader of the site and shares its stories often on social media.

Gill isn’t alone in the field for his support for Trump. All of the leading candidates in the Republican primary supported the former president, and none could be considered particularly moderate. Armey, the second-place candidate, said he was eager to work with Trump on issues ranging from border security to cutting federal spending. Huffman, who came in third, also supported Trump and his plans to deport undocumented immigrants en masse.

“I want to ensure that we have a House that's not only talking the talk, but is actually putting legislation together and getting bills on [President Trump]'s desk for him to enact,” Armey said.

But Armey and Huffman have lived in the area for years and established records and strong name recognition. Gill, on the other hand, relies largely on the Trump name with no record in public service to lean on.

It has opened him up to attacks from some powerful enemies with deep pockets.

The Anti-Gill faction

Republican megadonors spent over $2.1 million trying to dissuade voters from nominating Gill. Two super PACs, America Leads Action and Conservatives for American Excellence, blasted the district with mailers calling Gill a fake conservative, a New Yorker carpetbagger and a supporter of left-wing politics.

“Brandon Gill supports defunding the police, making it easier for criminal illegals and deviants to target your kids,” said one Facebook ad by America Leads Action.

Another television ad by the group targeted Gill for his past work with Nomura, a Japanese firm that the ad said conducts “business in communist China” and “that puts China over America.” Nomura has offices around Asia, including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, India and Malaysia. Gill worked in a New York-based office.

The ad also attacks Gill as a “liberal” who supports defunding the police. But the tweets that the ad cites to back its claim were Gill criticizing the FBI for its criminal investigations into Trump — hardly the leftist ideas to divert money from municipal police departments over racial justice.

The groups targeted a handful of far-right conservative candidates throughout the country this cycle, including in the 12th Congressional District Republican primary where state Rep. Craig Goldman ran against Paxton-backed business owner John O’Shea. In that cycle, the ads both attacked O’Shea and supported Goldman (the two are headed to a runoff in May). In the 26th district, the ads were targeted squarely at bringing down Gill.

All of the targets were either endorsed by or admirers of the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right group within Congress that has repeatedly used the Republican Party’s slim majority to stall its business or push through culturally conservative measures. More mainline Republicans have complained about the group’s methods as mere noisemaking.

The donors behind America Leads Action and Conservatives for American Excellence — the two major PACs pouring money into anti-Gill messaging — are largely business-minded conservatives with deep pockets. Crow Family Holdings, the Dallas-based real estate investment firm, donated $50,000 to Conservatives for American Excellence in September.

Harlan Crow, who is the chair of Crow Holdings, is one of the biggest conservative donors in Texas. He was a founding supporter for Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that has become an influential force in Republican primaries (Club for Growth endorsed Gill in this year’s primary). Crow hosted a fundraiser for former Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley last month. Crow catapulted to national attention after ProPublica uncovered years of luxury travelCrow offered to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Crow Holdings and Harlan Crow did not respond to requests for comment.

Other major donors include Rob Walton, the retired Walmart scion who gave $2 million to America Leads Action, and Jay Faison, the president of conservative climate change group ClearPath Action who gave $2.43 million. Neither Walton nor Faison responded to requests for comment through their organizations.

Gill decried the ads as “the swamp” spreading “ridiculous lies about me.”

“They don’t want a Trump endorsed, conservative warrior shaking things up,” Gill wrote on social media.

Gill said his victory proved the weight of the Trump endorsement, even nearly four years after his presidency, and that the never-Trump faction of the party was a dying breed. Gill said he did not know Crow personally.

“These are people whose influence is fading within the party and they're just throwing mud against the wall at this point to get any vestige of influence that they can,” Gill said.

Hoping for a runoff

Eleven candidates fought for the GOP nomination for Burgess’ seat. All the leading candidates were cleareyed about the odds going against the Trump-ordained candidate. But they held out hope that the race would at least go to a runoff where they could potentially turn the tables — just as Burgess, the outgoing incumbent, did when he first won the seat in 2002.

In that year, Burgess won his primary after barely eking into a runoff against Armey, son of then-House Majority Leader and incumbent Dick Armey. Scott Armey was the favorite among Washington Republicans and had high name recognition in the district as a former Denton County judge. He won a plurality of votes at 45.4% to Burgess’ 22.5% in the midterm. But Burgess managed to beat him with 54.6% of the vote in the runoff that year. Burgess went on to serve eleven terms without ever having to seriously worry about a challenge.

In a twist of fate, it was Scott Armey trying to win this year by pushing the race into a runoff. Vying for another run for the seat after over 20 years spent raising his children, Armey was optimistic he could push Gill to a runoff and beat him in May. Armey had retired from elected office but was still active in the community where he’s lived for decades working for the General Services Administration and later as a financial adviser. Armey managed to come in second place last week with 14.5% of the vote.

Armey’s campaign was optimistic about getting into the runoff. In the last three months before the primary election, polling by Armey’s campaign found 34% percent of voters were undecided. Armey’s team aggressively targeted those voters up to election day, hoping to win them over.

But Gill handily won the majority, crushing any hope for a runoff. He secured 58.4% of the vote.

“I was a little surprised it didn't go to a runoff with eleven people running,” Burgess said. “So kudos to Brandon Gill from being able to put together a plan that got him a high enough percentage.”

Replacing an elder statesman

Burgess attracted his own attacks in Washington for upsetting Dick Armey’s chosen successor in the 2002 primary and arrived as a congressman with no experience in elected office. Republicans were wary of a candidate who had voted Democratic in past primaries, even though he eventually became a loyally conservative member. He voted for both objections to the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

But Burgess proved himself as an effective lawmaker, partnering with members of both parties to get legislation passed. His office is decorated with five bills he’s led passed under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump — a decent tally in the halting legislative pace of Congress.

And he serves as one of the most senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a coveted assignment particularly for Texans. The committee also has jurisdiction over health care — an issue Burgess has championed as a former OB-GYN and co-chair of the Republican Doctors Caucus.

Despite his vows to be a Trump acolyte in the House, Gill said he also hopes to continue Burgess’ work on constituent services and on the Energy and Commerce Committee (though freshmen members almost never get assigned a seat on the powerful panel). Gill and Burgess spoke after the primary, and both said they had productive discussions on handing off the job.

“He's been a very honorable congressman,” Gill said. “He's done a great job of representing the district.

Being a Trump-centered congressman isn’t without precedent in the Texas delegation. Nehls, who southeast Texas congressional district sits just south of Houston, and Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, both largely use their positions to fete the former president. Nehls even nominated Trump to be House speaker. Trump endorsed Jackson, who was previously the White House doctor, in his competitive 2020 primary runoff.

Burgess did not endorse in the primary, citing his position during his 2002 run that Washington should not pick candidates. But he said he was not concerned about Gill’s lack of experience in public office or in the district. Burgess said he felt Gill understood the need to protect U.S. energy interests as he had on the House energy committee and that “constituents in the district will be well served.”

“He’ll carve his own way,” Burgess said. “People criticized me when I first got here. That's just the nature of the beast.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at