Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Why Dan Crenshaw Might Or Might Not Save The GOP

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 in 2024.

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 necessary.”

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 Republicans.

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.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

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