AUSTIN, Texas — With President Trump arriving in red-state Texas for a campaign rally in Dallas on Thursday, the Republican Party in the state faces a host of troubles.
The Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives is engulfed in scandal. Six of the state’s 23 Republican members of the United States House of Representatives say they will not run for re-election, opening new opportunities for Democrats. And one of the state’s three top Republican leaders believes that the president has become a political liability among a crucial bloc of voters.
“With all due respect to Trump — who I love, by the way — he’s killing us in urban-suburban districts,” Dennis Bonnen, the speaker of the state House and the central figure in the legislative scandal, said in a 64-minute tape recording released on Tuesday.
The recording of a sometimes salty conversation Mr. Bonnen had with a conservative activist at the State Capitol in June includes a description of what critics have called a quid-pro-quo offer that is now under investigation by the Texas Rangers.
Mr. Bonnen says the tape, which was recorded without his knowledge, proves that nothing he said in the conversation broke any laws.
Even so, the political landscape in Texas will now feature both an embattled state leader struggling to hold on to the speakership and an embattled president confronting an impeachment inquiry — a prospect that unquestionably raises the stakes for Republicans in a state their party has dominated for more than two decades.
Consequently, “corruption and abuse of power become not just a national issue but potentially a state-level issue for Republicans as well,” said Jim Henson, a pollster and political analyst based in Austin.
The impeachment inquiry’s impact on Texas voters is unclear.
As Republican leaders in Texas spread out the welcome mat for the president’s first re-election campaign appearance in Dallas, the state party chairman, James Dickey, offered an upbeat assessment. Mr. Dickey said that Mr. Trump was doing an “amazing job” despite “an endless onslaught of attacks” and that fund-raising and volunteer recruitment for the 2020 race were going well.
But some recent polls suggest that Mr. Trump is not assured of a second victory in Texas, which he carried in 2016 by 9 percentage points, the smallest margin for a Republican presidential candidate in the state since 1996. (Texas has not voted for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.)
Analysts generally share the speaker’s assessment that Mr. Trump has hurt Republican chances in the state’s suburbs, particularly among women, many of whom are offended by his blustery and unpredictable temperament.
“There is no question whatsoever that Mr. Trump is more of a liability to the Republican Party than an asset,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at the Baker Institute at Rice University. “Over all, you can say he represents a drag on the Republican ticket.”
A survey released in June by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune found Texas voters split down the middle on the president, with half saying they would vote to re-elect him and half saying they would vote against him. Mr. Henson, who heads the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas and is one of the poll’s directors, said the result “encapsulates how divisive Trump is.”
In August, a poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News and Emerson College found that Texas voters narrowly preferred former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner in the Democratic primary race, over Mr. Trump, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Even so, Mr. Trump still commands a loyal following, with an 80 percent approval rating among Republicans.
Trump supporters lined up days in advance for tickets to the rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, and organizers estimated that as many as 40,000 to 50,000 people would attend. The Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke, a former member of Congress from El Paso with a statewide following, planned to hold a competing rally in Grand Prairie, a Dallas suburb.
In Texas and in other states across the country, Republicans have been losing ground in suburbs that were once strongholds for the G.O.P. Among other trends, urban dwellers have been moving to the suburbs in search of more affordable housing and an easier pace, bringing their generally more progressive views with them. Mr. Trump’s combative, hard-line style does not tend to go down well with those voters.
Mr. Trump “serves as a factor that mobilizes Democrats,” Mr. Henson said. “In these suburban areas, where we saw Democrats take seats from Republicans in the 2018 election, Trump is a problem.”
Democrats made substantial gains in Texas in 2018, flipping two House seats, two Texas Senate seats and 12 Texas House seats, some of them in Republican bastions like Fort Worth. Mr. O’Rourke’s energetic campaign for the United States Senate came unexpectedly close to defeating a Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, and lent momentum to down-ballot races.
Leaders in both parties say that the 2020 election, centered on the presidential race, will also be critical in determining the balance of power in Texas. The House seats left open by the six retiring Republicans will be a top priority for both parties.
In the 150-member Texas House, Democrats are nine seats away from winning a majority for the first time since 2003, and many in the party see opportunity in the disarray among Republicans over the scandal surrounding Mr. Bonnen. Mr. Dickey, the Republican state chairman, said his party planned “to do everything we must to ensure victory in 2020,” and was hoping for “a swift resolution” to the turmoil in the House.
“Our consistent position is that anything that distracts from victory in 2020 is counterproductive,” Mr. Dickey said of the scandal. Several Republican members of the chamber have called for Mr. Bonnen’s resignation as speaker.
The recording released on Tuesday was made secretly by Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, a conservative activist group, during a June 12 conversation he had with Mr. Bonnen and Dustin Burrows, who was then the Republican leader in the House. Mr. Bonnen is heard saying that he would grant Mr. Sullivan’s longstanding request to provide House media credentials to representatives from his organization, in exchange for Mr. Sullivan helping to defeat 10 moderate Republican House incumbents in primaries.
“Let’s go after these Republicans — and I’m not kidding,” Mr. Bonnen says.
Mr. Sullivan, a firebrand known for battling the Republican establishment, ignited the scandal when he revealed Mr. Bonnen’s offer in an online post on July 25, later disclosing that he had recorded the conversation. His release of the tape, which seemed to support his initial account, was yet another bombshell.
Mr. Sullivan is heard saying that he does not want anything in return for opposing the 10 moderates. Mr. Bonnen responds: “Well, no, you do. You do. We can make this work. I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”
The speaker is heard using crude language at times to denigrate other lawmakers. One, Representative Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, a Democrat whom Mr. Bonnen described as “vile,” responded to the release of the tape by sending out a fund-raising missive saying, “Republicans fear me more than any other Democrat.”
Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the leader of House Democrats, said the revelations in the tape were “incompatible with Mr. Bonnen serving another term as speaker.”
But Mr. Bonnen said in a statement that the tape provided “clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing,” and said “the House can finally move on.”
The next major turn in the case will come when the Texas Rangers, the criminal investigative arm of the state Department of Public Safety, announces the results of its investigation. The department’s media office said this week that the investigation was “still active and ongoing,” and did not give a projected completion date.