The Faith of Dan Crenshaw
Liberals to the Left of Him; Idiots to the Right
This week, Congressman Dan Crenshaw made news when a video circulated of him losing his temper with a young voter during a Montgomery Tea Party PAC meeting. She read a quote back to him from an appearance on the Jocko podcast he’d recorded saying, “Jesus is a hero archetype.” He snapped back, “Don’t question my faith.” His response drew boos from the crowd.
Here is the complete exchange:
The questioner is an 18-year-old supporting one of Crenshaw's primary opponents, Jameson Ellis, who runs on the platform: Restore Liberty, Refund The Police, and Make America AMERICA Again. A Crenshaw spokesman dismissed the episode as a “cheap political stunt,” adding that Crenshaw lost his mother to breast cancer when he was ten years old and “[h]is mom taught him about faith and passed those lessons on to Dan.” The spokesman also added, "He leaned on God to get him through that experience in Afghanistan. It's nothing short of a miracle that he's not blind and dead."
It was a pointed question from someone already not voting for him on camera. Gotcha questions came into being not long after politics started, so Crenshaw should have handled this better. I offered this opinion to a Crenshaw defender:
Someone who attended the event suggested watching the whole talk because he’d addressed it earlier. I watched the entire speech, and you can too. His earlier explanation referred the audience to a podcast on the subject rather than providing any real reason.
Crenshaw should have taken a different path. He could have easily referred to the trials in his own life and how his faith carried him through each one. Whether a profoundly important story of losing his mother at a young age or the heroic story of being injured by an IED and walking to the medic station, Crenshaw not only has faith but could inspire others. He might not gain a single supporter in the room, but his response probably cost him a few.
One audience member after another lined up to ask him hot button questions during the meeting. He got questioned whether he was a U.S. citizen because he was born in the United Kingdom (his parents were U.S. citizens living in Scotland). Voters repeatedly pressed him to endorse Donald Trump if he ran for president in 2024 and denounce Liz Cheney. He was pressed about the January 6 rioters still awaiting trial and what he was doing to help them. The answer didn’t go over so well.
In watching the video, it’s clear some folks are angry at Dan Crenshaw, and he’s feeling the heat. What that means for his primary is unclear, but Crenshaw has some weak spots that his opponents will exploit.
“Idiots like Trump”
“Trump’s insane rhetoric is hateful, yes.” Dan Crenshaw said in a December 2015 Facebook post about then-candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban; he added, “On the one hand you have idiots like Trump, and on the other, you have equally ignorant liberals who refuse to acknowledge a problem at all.”
These words would come back to bite him when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2018 in Texas’s Second Congressional District. Crenshaw came in second in the crowded primary, edging out activist Kathleen Wall by 155 votes. Wall spent $6 million of her own money and endorsed Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
In the runoff, a PAC supporting Crenshaw’s opponent, Kevin Roberts, turned those comments into a television ad calling him “an anti-Trump liberal.” Crenshaw beat Roberts 2-to-1 in the primary and was elected to the U.S. House that same year.
Saturday Night Live Controversy
Just before the November 2018 mid-term elections, Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson did a Weekend Update segment on his first impressions of candidates around the country. While mocking Crenshaw, Davidson said, “I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.” This comment sparked a backlash, so SNL invited then-Representative-elect Crenshaw to do a segment with Davidson a week later. Davidson apologized and let Crenshaw roast him. The incident gave the freshman a national audience before he took the oath of office.
Although Crenshaw likes to walk to his own beat, he dutifully played along with the election challenges after the 2020 presidential election. He signed on to the congressional amicus brief on the Texas challenge to the election results. He did, however, vote to certify all of the election results. These votes put him at odds with a majority of Republican voters. In a December 2021 UMass Poll, 55 percent of Republicans stated they would be more likely to support a candidate that questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election. This issue could be a sore spot in his upcoming primary.
January 6 Response
Days following the January 6 riots, Crenshaw penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, saying,
The real cause of Wednesday’s unrest was that many officeholders and commentators misled millions of Americans to believe that the vote count was their final chance to have a say, and their last, best chance to fight for election integrity. Millions were lied to and told they had to fight at our Capitol or all would be lost. But Jan. 6 was merely ceremonial—with or without the protesters, the unconstitutional right of objection some lawmakers invoked would have resulted in nothing more than a couple of hours of debate.
He did not directly implicate anyone by name, but a reasonable conclusion to draw here is that Crenshaw blamed Trump and others for amplifying this lie that Congress could do something. To his credit, he’s stuck to this unpopular opinion.
Two days after the op-ed, he came to Liz Cheney’s defense as others called for her to resign her leadership position.
At this point, Cheney is a pariah within the party, getting very little public support from her colleagues.
This past December, Crenshaw took shots at some fellow Republicans, calling them “grifters” and “performance artists.” His comments were aimed at those in the House Freedom Caucus over a vaccine bill he supported that supposedly included a database of the vaccinated (it didn’t) and his support of the National Defense Authorization Act. He recently got into a spat with Trump loyalist Marjorie Taylor Greene because Crenshaw supports deploying FEMA workers to testing sites, saying she “might be a Democrat – or just an idiot.” These sorts of disputes are enough to invite House colleagues to endorse your opponents or bring in independent expenditures from conservative pro-Trump groups. One audience member told him he was harder on Marjorie Taylor Greene than liberal New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Stock Market Backlash
With a seemingly endless set of stories about members of Congress buying and selling on the stock market during the pandemic, the public is growing weary of the investor-legislator. Last year, we learned that Crenshaw, who was not an active investor when he got to Congress, suddenly started playing the market in March 2020, timed just before the passage of the CARES Act. The report noted Crenshaw failed to disclose the transactions within the 45 days required by law - leaving him out of the headline-grabbing “insider trading” stories at the time. According to the website, Unusual Whales, Crenshaw had the fifth-highest rate of return among members of Congress in 2021. During his speech to the Tea Party PAC, he clarified that was “only $20,000 in gains,” falling squarely into the category of “if you’re explaining, you’re losing.” It’s terrible optics and just another issue to defend.
Making Sense of It All
Crenshaw has done his fair share of defending Donald Trump. Liz Cheney had a 92 percent record of voting with Trump when she was removed as Conference Chair and replaced with Elise Stefanik, who voted with Trump 78 percent of the time. That offers little cover in today’s Republican Party. Stefanik voted to object to the 2020 election results, so her votes on Trump’s policies pale compared to her votes on Trump.
Both Cheney and Crenshaw supported certifying all of the states’ elections results and blamed the January 6 riots on “The Big Lie.” Admittedly, Cheney has made it her reason for being to rip this narrative from the roots of the Republican Party or go down swinging. Crenshaw, on the other hand, is trying to straddle the fence.
Fellow Republican Rep. Mike Garcia of California said, “He's more of a philosopher than most members of Congress are. And he takes the time to understand the issues and the rationale behind some of these positions.” The question is whether there’s room for nuance in a Republican primary in 2022.
The Texas legislature recently approved new congressional districts following the last Census, making Crenshaw’s reddish district into a safe Republican district. Donald Trump carried the old second district by one percentage point but would have won his new one by 23 points. The recent Tea Party appearance is significant because solidly Republican Montgomery County replaced parts of Houston in Crenshaw’s district. So many of these voters have never cast a ballot for Crenshaw before.
For Crenshaw to avoid a runoff, he must get more than 50 percent of the vote in the March primary. Hitting that mark in a four-way race can be difficult. A voting record and plenty of public content now overshadow the charisma and biography that helped Crenshaw beat a well-funded opponent in 2018. There is plenty of material there to make a case against him now.
Crenshaw is smartly relying on incumbency and his prolific fundraising ability to get him the nomination. A win in the primary virtually guarantees reelection in November. He’s also betting that the anti-Crenshaw vote, divided among three opponents, is enough to push him over the line.
Make no mistake; this primary is a referendum on Crenshaw’s time in Congress. Conventional wisdom says an incumbent who can’t get 50 percent in a primary will most likely not get it in a runoff. It’s called a ceiling, and if he hits it in March, he’s got a helluva fight to overcome it.
Many Republican voters expect their representatives to be with Trump when it matters, and it always seems to matter. Conservatives typically fall into one of two camps, Trumpists or Never Trump. Crenshaw is trying to occupy the gray area of “Sometimes Trump.” That may prove to be the most dangerous place of all.
Given all that Dan Crenshaw has survived in this world, there is no reason to question his faith in God over some poorly chosen words on a podcast. Given all that Dan Crenshaw has done in politics, you can question his faith in making it through his upcoming primary unscathed.
Pundits are watching Liz Cheney’s race in Wyoming to see if she can survive a tough primary challenge. No one’s been talking about Crenshaw’s race. Maybe they should.
There’s not been any polling yet, so there’s no reason to declare Crenshaw is in serious trouble. There are still enough red flags to make his primary worth tracking.