Dan Crenshaw has made a big splash on the conservative scene
in a short amount of time. It’s hard to believe now, but most of us heard of
Rep. Crenshaw for the first time only five months ago when he responded to a
joke by Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson with class and dignity that is
rarely seen in either party these days.
Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan where
he lost his right eye. Crenshaw’s eye patch spurred a joke about his appearance
from Davidson, who said that he looked like a “hit man in a porno movie.” The
joke at the decorated veteran’s expense fell flat and created such criticism
that SNL invited Crenshaw to appear on the next
episode where Davidson gave him an apology.
Crenshaw received the apology with good humor. After joking
back and forth, Crenshaw added, “There’s a lot of lessons to learn here, not
that the left and right can still agree on some things, but also this: That
Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a
country and still see the good in each other.”
Amid the SNL kerfuffle, Crenshaw became one of the few
Republicans to join the congressional class of 2019. The Texas second
congressional district in suburban Houston with its large minority population
is exactly the sort of district that rejected Republican candidates in the 2018
wave yet Crenshaw won by a comfortable seven-point margin. It’s likely that his
response to the SNL insult contributed to his victory.
Since then, Crenshaw has become so popular with all factions
of the Republican Party that Politico asked over the weekend whether he represented the future of the GOP. This sort
of talk isn’t new. USA
Today asked the same question back in November.
Asking whether Crenshaw is the future of the GOP implies
that Donald Trump is not. Whether most Republicans want to admit it or not,
Trump’s leadership led to the bloodletting in the House during last year’s
midterm elections and recent
polling from the swing states – as well as red states like Georgia and
Texas – paints a bleak picture of the president’s chances for re-election. Even
though Trump is still overwhelmingly popular within the GOP, that is not true
outside the party and the Trump Administration has tarnished the Republican
brand among moderate and independent voters.
Although he has voted with Trump 93
percent of the time, Crenshaw was elected after condemning
Trump during the 2016 election cycle. His primary opponent in 2018 called
him an “anti-Trump liberal” after Crenshaw called Trump’s rhetoric against
Muslims as “hateful” and “insane.” If anyone has earned the right to denounce
anti-Muslim rhetoric it is a Navy SEAL who spent three tours in Afghanistan.
A key difference between Crenshaw and Trump is in tone and
how the two men react to criticism. Where Trump responds to personal attacks in
kind, Crenshaw showed the nation that a soft answer can turn away wrath. After the
bitter partisan division of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the country
definitely needs a leader who can bring us back together. It is possible that
Crenshaw, a millennial who turns 35 on March 14, will be that unifying leader,
but it is certain that he won’t compete against President Trump in 2020. That
means that Crenshaw must win at least two more congressional elections to be viable
That may be easier said than done. 2018 was a rough year for
Republicans and 2020 may be more of the same. As noted earlier, the second
congressional district encompasses areas of Houston that are not reliably Republican.
The district is contained within Harris County, which voted for Beto O’Rourke
at the same time that it elected Dan Crenshaw. Crenshaw’s support for Trump may
hurt him in these Democratic areas.
In the coming years, Crenshaw will have the same difficulty
as many other Republicans. To win the primary, he must show loyalty to President
Trump but to win the general election he must distance himself from an
unpopular president. The same conundrum led to the defeat of incumbents throughout
the Obama Administration as well as in the 2018 midterms.
Crenshaw has been vocal in his support of President Trump’s
wall project, which has proven to be one of the most divisive issues of the
Trump Administration. In a disappointing move for many conservatives, he also
voted to uphold President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the
southern border even as he expressed concern about the use of executive power
to bypass Congress.
“While we must be wary of executive action taken to bypass
Congress, and be wary of reprogramming appropriated funds, it is clear to me
that in this situation the President has the right to enforce our laws,” Rep.
Crenshaw said in a statement
on his website. “If Congress had done its job weeks ago, this wouldn’t be
While his stance on immigration and his defenses of President
Trump will make Crenshaw popular among Republicans, they may not endear him to
other voters who are more critical of the president. Crenshaw could find re-election
to be a challenge next year. As a high-profile Republican congressman, Democrats
will be gunning for his seat. However, if Rep. Crenshaw can convince voters to
return him to Congress, he will have become even more valuable to Republicans
as an incumbent who has a proven ability to win in a district with a large number
of Democratic voters in what is likely to be a difficult election year for
On a personal level, I like Crenshaw, but I’ll need to see
more from him before I’m ready to pronounce him the savior of the Republican
Party. There’s a lot to like about the congressman, but his failure to rein in
President Trump’s abuse of executive authority is troubling and sets a bad
precedent for future administrations.
With only two months in office, it’s too early to either
jump on the Crenshaw Express or write him off. Republicans should not start to
build up another political personality cult but should watch Crenshaw closely
to see that he follows small government, constitutionalist ideals rather than
following wherever the president goes. Hopefully, he will prove himself as
adept at reaching across the aisle to enact conservative solutions as he was at
winning over the cast members of SNL.