As cases and deaths from COVID-19 rise in nearly every state across the nation, elected officials in various localities have taken drastically different approaches to handling the pandemic.
Some blue states have put in place severe lockdowns and restrictions (New York, California), while many red states have taken a much lighter approach (Florida, Texas). Many in the legacy press, predictably, have sided with the blue states and their elected leaders.
As the information war surrounding COVID rages, The Daily Wire reached out to Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who is regarded by many conservatives as a sterling example of the next generation of the Republican Party, to get his take on the situation.
In the following interview (which can be listened to right beneath this paragraph via the SoundCloud embed, or read via the transcript below), Crenshaw talks about the onerous regulations and lockdowns facing small businesses, deciphering Leftist thinking, how conservatives should react to the pandemic, and what role simple rationality can play in all of this.
DW: At the start of this pandemic, when we knew very little about COVID-19, temporary lockdowns seemed appropriate in order to shore up hospital capacity for what was believed to be something much more severe than it seems to have turned out to be. What were your initial thoughts on those measures?
CRENSHAW: I was always very skeptical. It always seems like pretty enormous overreach — but I think we all had some grace for “two weeks to slow the spread.” But again, even then I was very skeptical. I think I was one of the early voices that never really bought into full-fledged lockdowns or even partial lockdowns.
And now we’ve gotten to a point where we have a lot of data, we have a better understanding of the cost, and we have a better understanding of the benefits. And as it turns out, there’s almost no benefits. The virus spreads as the virus spreads. The trend lines in different regions, in different countries, how the spread happens, and how it declines don’t appear to change all that much when you compare lockdown policies.
So, even if we give some grace for overstepping our policy bounds in the beginning, no excuse for it now. And the science is very clear, and there’s plenty of reporting on this. National Review did a story on some studies that looked at this, again, comparing how the spread occurred and whether lockdowns even affected that. Axios also wrote about a study that showed that less costly pandemic mitigation measures slow the spread of the coronavirus just as well, if not better, than full-scale economic lockdowns. Another analysis reported by The Wall Street Journal showed that if businesses reopened by just basically using basic industry guidelines on physical distancing, hygiene, mask wearing, you could achieve fewer deaths while also leaving economic output 10% higher than a full-scale economic shutdown.
So, policy is about trade-offs, and the conclusion is that if you have very little benefit or even no benefit, but massive costs, then the policy choice should actually be quite easy. And so what we’re seeing is that a lot of these policymakers at local and state levels, and almost entirely Democrats, are making highly irrational choices — and it needs to stop. I mean, it’s really, really hurting people.
DW: As we moved into the summer and the fall, and learned more about the virus and who is truly vulnerable (the elderly and those with co-morbidities) and who were not as vulnerable (almost everybody else), the lockdown measures continued and are now becoming more and more harsh. What, in your opinion, animates some leaders to issue lockdowns and restrictions when they’re not only wildly unpopular, but severely damaging to the economy?
CRENSHAW: It’s hard to say. I’m always trying to get into their heads. There’s — especially on the Left — there’s a bias toward action, and this comes from a propensity for emotional decision-making. It’s a bit of weakness, right? So in any public outcry, your typical left-wing politician wants to take the most amount of action possible because they fear nothing more than a public outcry. So, this is based in cowardice and weakness — but mostly it’s emotion. And they want to be able to moralize over others. They want to be able to say that if it saves one life, then it’s worth any cost. Of course, this seems to be the only time that we actually use that kind of philosophy.
I mean, if we wanted to save 40,000 lives a year, we would just stop people from driving, right? That guarantees we would spare 40,000 people. We would also force people to exercise and eat certain foods, and then we’d possibly mitigate 600,000 deaths a year from heart disease. So, if you’re going to have this propensity towards, and bias towards, action, then at least be consistent about it, but they’re not even doing that.
It’s highly emotional decision-making. I’m not even sure if that explains it. I mean, it’s truly concerning at this point. It almost seems out of spite. It’s almost as if they want to see these businesses fail. I mean, it’s really hard to look at the heart-wrenching testimonies of these small business owners and not say, “Okay guys, let’s rethink this.” Especially in a place like Los Angeles, where you see this woman filming her small business being shut down, all the money she put into this outdoor dining space, and right next door, this movie set is opening up their outdoor dining space, which is perfectly fine.
This is deeply unconstitutional in the sense that it’s arbitrary application of the law. Let’s not even call it a law; it’s an edict, and it does not follow due process, and it does not follow a rational decision-making.
DW: So do you think any of them really buy into their own edicts and their own decisions, or it’s all just more moralizing?
CRENSHAW: Yeah, I mean, they obviously don’t, right? Because we’ve seen that over and over again. Our local mayor in Austin was telling people to stay at home and not go out, as he was filming his public message from Cabo. Eric Garcetti, out there in Los Angeles, was out there protesting happily with people in massive crowds, but is telling small businesses and restaurants to close down their outdoor dining. We’re all familiar with the French Laundry and Gavin Newsom’s proclivities. We’re familiar with Gretchen Whitmer’s husband and his ability to go boating, but nobody else’s.
So, these people don’t actually believe it. They’re elitists who think that they know better than everybody else, and that it’s their job to make decisions for you, and to tell you how to stay safe, instead of just giving you the information, [and] contextualizing that information.
This is another thing they don’t do, which is infuriating. They always like to throw out the scariest data, right? Like a total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic — as if this number means anything. It does not mean anything. It only means something in the context of, “Hey, what are our hospitalizations? Who is getting it? Why? And then who suffers from it and why? What is your probability of suffering from it if you’re somebody in your twenties or thirties, and basically don’t have any comorbidities?” Probabilities matter quite a bit when it comes to assessing your own risk. Now, most Americans now know all of this because we’ve just learned it over time — which, frankly, is probably why you’re seeing such a wide spread throughout the country and throughout the world, because there’s COVID fatigue and people are like, “You know what? I understand the probability of risk now, and I’m going to take that risk.” And then this is what people are doing.
DW: So we have new data coming in continuously regarding the vaccine, the efficacy of masks, the efficacy of certain numbers of feet of social distancing — but what can we believe? There appear to have been multiple reputable studies pushing masks that conform to certain narratives on either side — that masks are either effective or they’re not effective in certain situations. We’ve seen health officials and elected officials regard their own standards as essentially nothing, disregard their own standards — as you said, Newsom, Lightfoot, Pelosi. How do we kind of suss out what’s real in a time when we were being fed a diet that’s loaded with such politically-motivated garbage?
CRENSHAW: It’s been hard. And it’s been harder on people, too, because it’s sort of the death of the experts. I mean, we’re not going to forget all of the experts telling us not to go out and buy masks back in February and March — to include Dr. Fauci, to include the surgeon general. I mean, and then they quickly flipped on that.
Look, I don’t have a problem with masks because it doesn’t cost us anything. Wear a mask. And if it prevents some droplets of sneezing getting on somebody who’s near you, then it prevents that — and that seems to be of some kind of benefit. Are they the end-all be-all? I’m sure they’re not. But again, I always, I look at everything as a cost-benefit, and this doesn’t seem to cost us much.
I’m against mandates though. I do not believe in mandating it. And I think that’s backfired to a huge extent. I think the backlash against masks has come from the fact that, again, our elitist overlords try to mandate it. This causes backlash. You’ve got to ask people to do it. You’ve got to ask people to work with you and do this.
Now I think businesses can require it inside, right? Because it’s their private property. And that should be our line. Look, again, you have to approach this kind of problem with a sense of humility, and the Left does not. The Left believes in controlling every single thing — and they have a hubris about what they can accomplish with that control.
As a conservative, I have a more constrained view of what government can really do. And I think you have to operate off of incentives. I think you have to give people the knowledge that they require to take actions accordingly, and then use government power and resources to emphasize things like hospital capacity, right? So vaccine development, PPE production. These are things that government can truly control and distribute. Testing being another one. That should have always been our focus, as opposed to simultaneously [doing] all that while also trying to destroy people’s small businesses, which, frankly, has become unscientific lockdowns and edicts.
DW: That perfectly lines up with my next question, which is, what is a conservative solution to this? You’ve mentioned part of this already. Setting aside the upcoming vaccines, as hospitals begin to reach ICU capacity in certain states, should states and localities take measures to push back against a potential overflow, which could lead to significant consequences? California, as you know, has implemented the 15% ICU capacity trigger for lockdowns. Where’s the line drawn on government intervention, especially if COVID cases wind up having an impact on hospital capacity, which might then cause them to lose the ability to care for other urgent needs?
CRENSHAW: Yeah. And again, the conservative solution is focused resources on hospital capacity. It’s easier to build that out than it is to recover from a destroyed society. But the other problem is a lot of these standards by which they’re operating are kind of crazy, to be honest. For instance, I believe I saw something out of California, in Los Angeles in particular, that said that they were implementing lockdowns because they were at 85% ICU capacity. That seems high until you understand that on a regular day, in a regular year, they’re operating at 90% capacity. In the flu season they’re almost at 100%.
So if 90% is the baseline, how the heck are we justifying closures below that?
And then the question is why. Why is that the number? This arbitrary decision-making that doesn’t have the backing at all. And what they also don’t like to tell you is that when you reach a 100% ICU capacity, you just move into Phase 2, and you open up different ICU beds, and then Phase 3.
What they’re also not telling you is that the ability for us to treat this disease has gotten far, far better. People are staying in the hospital less and recover faster, too. So it is different. That discussion about ICU capacity was a bit more relevant in the earlier days of the pandemic. We can stretch it out a little bit further; we can take a little bit more risk at this stage in the pandemic because our treatments are so much better. These politicians aren’t even taking … they’re not operating in a holistic fashion. They’re not taking in all the data; they’re not taking all things into consideration; they have no cost-benefit analysis, and they should all be fired. And people should not comply with the lockdown.
DW: So it’s more of a scare tactic than anything?
CRENSHAW: It seems that, and it seems spiteful at this point. I don’t know how else to explain it. I mean, I gave a partial explanation that it’s emotional reasoning that’s taking place — but again, they don’t even believe it themselves, so they can’t believe, they can’t because they don’t even comply. So they can’t themselves be scared and that emotional about it. It’s almost out of spite for the American people. If I really want to get cynical, you could argue that a lot of these state and local Democrats are almost implementing pain on their people to give Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress more leverage for bigger packages that fulfill their progressive wishlist when it comes to COVID relief bills. This stuff is all connected — and when the science is so against what they’re doing, I struggle to imagine what the motivations would be.
DW: In the winter, COVID cases are on the rise and the deaths are on the rise, and this is expected and will likely continue through the rest of the winter. On the other end, the economy and the American citizenry have taken a significant impact as a result of the shutdown policies. People forget the economy isn’t some abstract thing, that it’s actually comprised of people whose lives depend on their employment. They also forget that people’s physical and emotional health are tied to these policy decisions, as well. What should be the message from elected officials on balancing COVID health and safety with economic well-being and mental health and safety?
CRENSHAW: Our policy needs to be very clear. You give people the information they need. Explain to them the science of social distancing and mask wearing, and allow them to comply, allow businesses to self-regulate in that manner.
I understand that for the, kind of, control-hungry Democrats, this just is never enough, right? Again, because of that bias toward action and control — but it has to be this way because the costs otherwise are just too great. There are real deaths of despair that are occurring in our economy. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for thousands and thousands of restaurants and bars that have to close, and the employees that no longer have jobs, and these small business owners that really have no place to go. There is no getting back the lack of education and potential domestic abuse that has occurred from closing our schools, and the psychological devastation on children. This stuff is real, and it’s just not being considered by these lockdown fanatics.
DW: Across the country, we’re seeing bar owners, we’re seeing restaurant owners and other store owners defy these more onerous lockdown and stay at home orders, specifically in California and New York. And you had mentioned this earlier in a previous answer, but if you could expand on it, what should Americans do in the face of lockdown measures that are onerous and clearly not based in any kind of reliable data?
CRENSHAW: I think we’re at the point where you have to band together and refuse to comply. I think we’re at that point right now, because your survival is on the line. I think there’s legal cases to be made against these governments for arbitrary application of their edicts. I’d love to see some of these associations, whether it’s National Restaurant Association or other associations that represent these small businesses, help them band together and take legal action against these local representatives, local governments, and state governments. I think this is deeply unconstitutional nonsense. Unconstitutional in the sense, again, does not follow due process. Justice Gorsuch talked about this in a recent case where he said, like, you can’t have different color codes and different applications for different kinds of businesses without any kind of reason behind that, or rationale behind that. This is unconstitutional, and I don’t think they should be complied with.
DW: Joe Biden has said that he would “ask” the American people for a 100-day face-mask requirement, I guess, if he’s inaugurated in January. What’s your response to that?
CRENSHAW: I kind of laughed at that. Like, wow, Joe Biden, you’ve got all this time to think about this, and this is what you come up with? I mean, this is the big national plan that you said Trump didn’t have? The reality is that the Left has consistently beat the drum on this narrative, that there’s no national plan. This has always been nonsense. There’s quite a few national plans. I mean, if there’s no national plan, than what was Operation Airbridge, bringing in hundreds of flights of PPE into the United States when China was hoarding it? What’s Operation Warp Speed? What do you think HHS has been doing with testing and making sure that that gets delivered throughout the country? What has FEMA been doing on testing sites throughout the country, coordinating that response? To say there’s no national response has been an utter and really, really contemptible lie. And then Joe Biden swoops in and is like, “This is what I’m going to do.” Every time he says that, he says the exact same thing that Trump has said, every single time.
I don’t know how else to describe it, except it’s pathetic. It’s pathetic, and it’s unworthy of the American people right now. Just be honest with us. Just be honest with us for once. Just explain what government can do and probably can’t do. Give us the information and we will survive, right? Because we’re tough. We’re tough Americans. On the ground, those places around the country, people are highly rational about this. They understand this; they’re not living in fear; they’ve got the tools they need to stay safe, and they don’t need all of this excessive pandering by politicians like Joe Biden.
DW: There are very few elected officials who are quite as effective as you are in the realm of explaining things to your constituents over social media. As we descend into various states of chaos — not just COVID, but with COVID in particular — it seems more important than ever to be able to articulate what’s real. What do you say to your fellow elected Republicans about getting that message out in the best way possible?
CRENSHAW: I just try to lead by doing. You’ve got to use the tools of social media, and I think a lot of politicians in our party — maybe it’s a generational thing — just haven’t taken it on over the years, and maybe leave it to a staffer. But think of it like your ability to speak to your constituents. And oftentimes maybe a politician doesn’t have a huge following and so they don’t want to put the effort into the social media platform because there’s not a huge following. But that’s also why you don’t have a huge following. So, it takes a lot of work and creativity, but it’s also got to be authentic.
So, it takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I mean, it’s kind of the new town hall in many ways. Whether we like it or not, American politics these days is closely related to the American love for entertainment. And so you have to do both, right? It’s why we like doing those Reloaded videos, Texas Reloaded. We’ve got another Georgia Reloaded video coming out. So it’s all part of that.
It’s why we do videos explaining a few extra layers deep the meaning behind legislation — why we’re doing what we’re doing, why I’m voting the way of voting, adding references in there as well, so that people understand why you’re saying what you’re saying.
Because too often, I think, in politics, politicians have taken one of two tracks, either just give them the talking points that are hard to trust because they’re not saying anything, right? It’s like, “This is a good bill and anybody who votes against us is a bad person.” And you’re like, “Okay, but why?” “Well just trust me. It hurts workers.” “Okay, but why? What do you mean, it hurts workers?” And so it’s either that, or the long dissertation from a op-ed — even op-ed is too long these days for some people, and the think tank piece. And so social media allows you to hit in between. Give people the headlines, show them why you’re saying what you’re saying, get a few layers deep, and make the argument that way. Work with what people have when it comes to attention spans.
DW: So my last question is, is there any way to de-politicize the COVID issue, or are we going to be locked in this polarized, politicized way of thinking about this whole pandemic and everything that comes after that?
CRENSHAW: I mean, I kind of don’t know where we go from here because a lot of us did honestly think that after the election, COVID would be basically be de-politicized — but somehow it hasn’t. I mean, so it kind of goes to show that a lot of these Democrats, again leading at the local and state level, they really believe what they’re saying. I mean, they obviously have more motivation behind these lockdowns than just getting rid of Donald Trump, which is downright scary. Because now I’ve got to analyze how the heck these people think, and why on earth they would make such irrational decisions.
So, part of it’s politicized for political opportunism, that’s a part of it. But what I alluded to before was, there’s a truly different disposition when it comes to problem-solving between the Left and the Right — and you’re just seeing that bubble up in the year 2020, in exorbitant fashion. We are wired differently. This isn’t just my opinion; there’s a lot of good studies to show that. We assess risk differently; our moral psychology is wired differently. So, you’ve got to take these things into account to try and understand why people are doing what you deem to be completely irrational.