In November, 34-year-old Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) was elected to represent the 2nd congressional district of Texas with 52.8% of the vote.
Crenshaw is a former Navy Seal. In 2012, during his third tour, which was in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Crenshaw lost his right eye in an IED explosion, and he’s worn an eyepatch ever since. Shortly before Crenshaw won the election, comedian Pete Davidson mocked his appearance on "Saturday Night Live." A week later, Crenshaw appeared on "SNL," where Davidson apologized.
Due in part to the media coverage surrounding Crenshaw’s late-night comedy appearence, his articulate messaging for conservative causes, and his outspoken nature, the congressman has amassed a large social media following.
As of publication, Crenshaw’s two Twitter accounts have a combined following of over half a million (although some of those are surely overlap). Approximately 391,000 people follow the representative on Instangram, and his Facebook page boasts 114,000 followers.
Some in the Republican Party have dubbed Crenshaw a "rising star."
On Thursday, The Daily Wire had the chance to speak with Rep. Crenshaw on a wide range of topics. Below, we discuss border security, the American military presence in Syria, criticism of the president, and much more.
DW: You seem to have outsized power as an elected official to shape the narrative for Republicans due to your social media following, and the SNL moment, among other things. How would you like the Party to be perceived, and in what ways are other political leaders failing to get the message across to voters?
CRENSHAW: I want the party to be perceived as a party that simultaneously appreciates traditional principles and founding principles – like limited government, individual freedom, and personal responsibility, federalism, appreciation for our Constitution, and the prosperity it has given us – while also being a forward-looking and innovative party that prioritizes creativity and entrepreneurship and the ability to make your own way.
I think a lot of people are looking for that. Then we have to take that optimistic message and apply it better to policies in particular. I think where we fail is that we start with the policy instead of starting with the culture. Republicans often just go straight to the policy, and then become really frustrated when people didn't get it. They didn't get it because you didn't explain the foundational reasons why that policy is better. So that's where you have to start – you have to tell people "why" before you tell them "what."
DW: So would you say the Republican Party has a messaging problem?
CRENSHAW: Yeah, but we're getting better, hopefully.
DW: You’ve been very clear about the way in which you criticize other politicians (dissect ideas, but don’t disrespect the person). Why do you believe it’s harmful to question or impugn motives?
CRENSHAW: Well it's just harmful and juvenile; it's the way a child argues. Let's just be honest, this happens a lot more coming from the Left toward the Right than the other way around. We're immediately called racists, bigots, whatever you want. I see Senators doing this often.
But like I said, it's harmful, divisive, and juvenile. It's divisive because it just riles people up. Even if a voter doesn't necessarily think that way, when you question someone's character, it's influential to the people listening to you. Over time, it creates a real animosity toward the other side, and you come to believe it because it's been repeated over and over again.
It also creates a shortcut to avoid arguments, a mental shortcut in order to avoid a real conversation because you're discrediting somebody before you've even challenged their idea. It's a very weak way to argue.
DW: Part of your appeal as an elected official is your intellectual consistency. There are many politicians in both parties that will flatly refuse to criticize the ideas of their leaders. You have disagreed with and called out the president on multiple occasions, including when he criticized the media. Has that led to any blowback from within the Party?
CRENSHAW: You do have to have some limits. I think a lot of politicians right now are in an interesting place. They're not afraid of getting called out by the president for disagreeing with him, they're afraid of getting called out by the voters. So, in the end, all politicians are very susceptible to what their constituents think. I realize that not a lot of people believe that, but it’s true.
That's unfortunate, and the reason it happens is because politicians forgot how to explain things to people. It goes back to my messaging issue about putting the why behind the what, and just being bold enough to help people understand why you might disagree with them.
I think what they'll find is that voters are more willing to forgive you and listen to you if you're just honest with them in your conviction and understand why you believe what you believe, and you understand it so well that you can help them understand it.
In the end, being a conservative means that we have to set up principles that we can adhere to and fall back on in times of difficult decisions. The things I've called out the president for are disagreements that have been related to some foreign policy issues and trade policy because they don't line up with the principles that I ran on, and I know why I disagree, and I can do it respectfully. The president respects that actually and so do his followers.
What they don't respect is when you're just taking shots at the president in a seemingly partisan way. I think that's where some conservatives have gone, kind of the never-Trump crowd or whatever you want to call them. Maybe they've gone too far where they only repeat the latest talking points. It really takes away from your argument. It also takes away from your argument if you just support everything the president says. We don't have to do that. We can respectfully disagree with him and still be on his side in a broader sense.
DW: There is a contingent of people in the Republican Party that back the president no matter what he says or does. While Trump has governed fairly conservatively, much of his behavior, and some of his policies (tariffs for example), have led many conservatives to despair that the Republican Party has lost its way, that it’s no longer a constitutionally Conservative party, but a populist one, driven by a charismatic leader rather than principles. What would you say to those people?
CRENSHAW: Yeah, we shouldn't deny that there's been a little bit of a populism-creep into the party. I still think the populism is far worse on the Left. I think it's far more pervasive – the Medicare for all, gonna give everything away for free type of message is really inherently impossible. That being said, let's let them do their thing and we'll criticize them as necessary, but more importantly, let's fix our own rhetoric.
So I think there's something to that, but I'm not so sure we have to be so worried about it. I'm also not so sure that the Republican Party is just gone in lock-step with the trade wars and the trade policy and the practice of using tariffs as sort of a blunt force tool to influence trade policy. There are actually quite a few Republicans who disagree with that.
There's legislation coming up or being discussed in which we would take some of that power back and require Congress to approve additional tariffs and possibly even roll back some of the steel tariffs. So it's not as if the party's just changed radically, at least the representatives that is.
Now the counter argument to what I just said is, you do see polling among Republicans – and this depends on the state – you see polling among Republican voters where they have switched their mind on trade, so that's interesting.
It's just an indication that we need to explain our ideas a little bit better, to to talk about them in terms that people can understand and be a little bit stronger about our messaging.
Again, and the counter argument to all that is at least what the president is saying is that his goal is to have more free trade. So that's still the goal, he just has a very different way of getting to that goal, which is, again, using a blunt force tool.
It’s not black or white. It's a nuanced discussion, especially with respect to trade. That's often something that changes based on your geography, what part of the country you're in, how you're respected by trade. It's never been a black and white issue and ideologically, I think, sometimes we've oversold it as an ideological black and white issue, which it's not.
DW: Many of the announced Democratic presidential candidates adhere to ideas that many see as radical – the Green New Deal, centralized healthcare, the abolition of ICE. What is the best way to counter the growing extremism in the Democratic Party and actually have American voters hear it?
CRENSHAW: Well, first of all, we can only criticize so much before voters turn around and say, "Well, what's your plan?" So we have to have our own plan, and we've got to have a plan that we can articulate as quickly as they can articulate their plan. "Medicare for all" is deceivingly simple. It's easy to understand what it means as soon as you hear it. We don't have that advantage with our healthcare plan. Our healthcare plans are far more complex than that. That was made pretty clear when we failed to repeal and replace Obamacare because what we were replacing it with wasn't clear to voters.
That's one thing we need to fix, and that's a difficult thing to fix, something like healthcare, because it’s complex. "Medicare for all" sounds simple, but it's not. It creates an enormous bureaucracy and really dire consequences that people don't understand. But by the time we've explained those consequences, voters have either stopped listening or they're saying, "Fine, but what's your plan?," and that's problematic.
The Green New Deal, again, I think we need our own approach to it. We can make fun of how costly it is and how unrealistic it is. I mean, it's a really minuscule effect for an enormous, enormous cost that's not based on any technology we currently have.
It calls for the banning of nuclear power – really interesting for a deal that wants to reduce carbon emissions. That being said, we should talk about the environment, too. I actually just tweeted about this. What I was saying is, we need to be for new technology; we need to be for some of the up-and-coming technology and carbon capture; we need to be for preserving our lakes and our rivers and our oceans and our forests; we need to be for exporting natural gas because that's a cleaner form of energy. If we can be for that in greater quantities, and build our pipeline infrastructure here in the United States, then export that gas in greater quantities to developing countries, that provides cleaner air for the entire globe.
Your hardcore environmentalists don't want to hear that kind of stuff, but your independents will. They’ll say, "Wow, that's actually a realistic talking point here. That’s a realistic policy. Yeah, it's not as drastic as the Green New Deal, but it's also not as costly, and it sounds like my heating and air conditioning bills aren't gonna go way up, my gas prices aren't gonna go way up, and it's gonna help those taxes on the poor and the middle class. The rest will do just fine." So those are the kinds of things we need to be talking about.
DW: What is the best way to show the American people that barriers are a necessary component of our border security?
CRENSHAW: The best way to show them is to go down there like I did, take videos, and tell the story in a very visual way. Have experts on the air talking about why this works, why this matters, and just keep explaining it in a way that is coherent, not based on fear, which is, I think, the biggest problem with the messaging that we've had so far.
What we’re effectively talking about is, how do you limit movement across a territory? Well, you need three things – personnel, technology, and barriers. There is no arguing with that. Anybody who tries to argue with that is being wholly dishonest, and the Left has actually convinced themselves of this truth simply because they hate Donald Trump.
So your question is, "How do we reverse that because our messaging hasn't worked?" The problem with the messaging so far is that it's been based on the drugs and the crime, and how much we can't stand illegal immigration. The problem with arguing in that way is that the Left immediately questions your motives. You get into a different discussion, you get into a tit-for-tat on how many drugs, etc. It’s not where we want to be.
The conversation has to be about the rule of law, respecting our sovereignty, the hundreds of thousands of people crossing illegally, dragging kids across because our laws incentivize that, and the humanitarian crisis that creates. So, that has to be the conversation because I think it's an irrefutable problem; you can't refute what I just said. There is no counter argument, there is no tit-for-tat, that's the right way to argue about this, and continue messaging the way I've done, which is visually.
I've actually gone down to the border. I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that lays it out for people in a simpler way. I didn't poll the American public, but a lot of people on the Left, because of their hatred for Trump, will cling to any talking point that refutes his basic stance. Those talking points tend to be very shallow. "Walls are medieval and are a 14th century solution!" That's not an argument, but they think it is, and there're happy to stick to it because it sticks it to Trump.
DW: According to The New York Times, 200 troops are being left in Syria. Is that enough?
CRENSHAW: Well, I'd like more, but it's definitely better than zero. Also, those troops are separated in addition to the U.S. forces that are going to remain at Al-Tanf, the southern Syria base near Iraq and Jordan. So that should be noted.
It's enough as long as our European allies also assist with their own troops. This needs to be a multi-lateral operation, and right now it's looking like we're making some progress on ensuring that will be the case. Our goal there is to keep eyes and ears on the ground, plus intelligence, maintain relationships with our partner forces there so that we can continue to assist and advise them, as well as build their capacity via training and equipment. You can do that with a pretty small number of troops. Those troops act as a tripwire, too, in a sense. Their presence effectively prevents Turkey from rolling over our Kurdish allies. It most likely prevents Hezbollah from coming in and taking over as well. So you don't need that many American troops there to do the jobs that we're going to be asking of them.
I would actually like to keep what we have right there for now, but if that's off the table, then I'm pretty happy to see that we're not taking all of them out.
DW: What can be done to bring power back to the legislative branch? So much power has been accrued by the courts and the executive.
CRENSHAW: Well, there are a lot of different aspects to that. First, the power that’s given away from the legislature is given away on purpose, via statutes. So it's as simple as taking back that statute. If we don't like a national emergency act, we just don't have one. I mean, it took Congress to do that, but we gave that power away.
It’s the same thing with trade. Maybe it was the right thing to do at the time because we wanted the President to have the ability to negotiate free trade agreements without the conversation becoming political as it was within Congress.
I think a big problem is statutes that end up with very complex sets of rules that could just never be reversed. Then the judiciary gives those regulatory agencies the power to maintain those rules despite what anybody else is saying, and I think that's really problematic.
It's not clear how to reverse that at this point except by putting in friendly, Article I type administrations to roll back regulations, and this President is doing that, but it's a slow process, and it can be difficult. So when we pass statutes, especially significant statutes that have to do with commerce or the environment, we need to have more exact language that doesn't allow the regulatory agencies to take so much liberty with how they write those rules and continue to write those rules.
DW: What’s the best counter to the identity politics of the Left?
CRENSHAW: Call it out for what it is. I think Jordan Peterson has probably done the best job of describing the dangers of identity politics. Call it out for what it is and then provide an alternative. The alternative is that we're a united people, and we're all individuals, and what matters is the content of our character.
Point out to people that identity politics is essentially going back in time; point out to people that identity politics is how humankind stayed in misery and suffering and poverty for tens of thousands of years because the natural state of ourselves is to be tribal and at each other's throats, and the unnatural state is to be individuals and to respect each other as individuals and not categorize each other into a race, gender, and class categories. When you do that, you inevitably create massive amounts of resentment and discontent. Our political divisiveness in this country is really a consequence of that.
Identity politics is a cultural issue, and politics is downstream of culture. So, I think it's pretty safe to say that the political divisiveness we're feeling is a result of, somewhat at least, the cultural divisiveness which is caused by identity politics.
DW: What’s your response to Democratic Party’s extreme abortion positions, and refusal to vote for the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act?
CRENSHAW: It’s partisanship gone mad. I can't think of any other explanation because I don't want to believe that they're so evil that they really want these babies dead. I honestly think it's partisanship gone mad, and partisanship to such an extreme that you would actually vote this way just because you don't wanna give the pro-life movement any kind of win. I can't think of anything else except that they're just so morally vacant that they would want something like this.
We shouldn't be surprised, on the other hand. We shouldn't be surprised because once you start evaluating life and you do it by saying, "Well, it's a woman's choice. Well, it's safe, legal, and rare." All right, let's just assume that those are well-intentioned liberals who feel for women who wanna make that choice. But we have to understand, and this is the case with a lot of issues, well-intentioned liberalism always leads to totalitarian progressivism. When you're devaluing life, even just a little bit, I think that will always build upon itself. Because the left is always going to be one-upping themselves.
Progressivism is progress, which means you always have to be moving forward. You can't just be happy with that one win, you have to keep going, you have to keep getting to more extremes. This is just a natural sequence of things when you're a progressive. Conservatives don't have that problem necessarily because their ideology is sort of boxed in. Progressivism is inherently dangerous because it will always lead to more extreme measures, and this is what we're seeing. This is the manifestation of that.
DW: Do you think it’s valid to criticize the Republican Party for failing to legislatively secure the border despite having two years of a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and presidency?
CRENSHAW: Yep. Although it's not as simple as people think. You need 60 votes in the Senate and a lot of people don't know that when we pass these bills.
DW: You criticized President Trump when he slammed NBC and SNL, calling the First Amendment the "backbone of American exceptionalism." Do you think the president takes it too far in his broad criticism of the media?
CRENSHAW: Well, he did that time. He usually doesn't. I mean, his rhetoric is certainly overheated and unnecessary, but it's not necessarily wrong either, except that one time. It was that time and he crossed the line there. He said what Obama actually did – and Obama was never held accountable for it. You should never question the legality of free speech, especially from the president.
There's another question there, which is, "Generally speaking, does he go too far?" I would say generally speaking, no. I've defended him on this when people say, "Attacking the press." I say, "How? How is he attacking or undermining the freedom of the press?" In no way, shape, or form has he actually done that. The hyperbolic statements from the Left on this are really disingenuous and highly dishonest, especially when you compare it to what President Obama did in actually investigating journalists.
It's not the rhetoric that I would use. I don't like the term "fake news." I like to say "deliberately misleading news" because that's what they do constantly. So, it's more a matter of style for me. I mean, the president and I do not have the same style. The president is very unique in his style. That being said, he's pointing out flaws in the media in his own way, but he's pointing out flaws that we all, I think, intrinsically agree with.
The Daily Wire would like to thank Rep. Crenshaw for taking the time to speak with us. For more with the congressman, check out this week’s "Sunday Special," in which Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro sits down with Crenshaw for an extended conversation.