A lot has been made of the new Democratic majority in the House. They’re young. Female. Diverse. Outspoken.
All the focus on Democrats made us curious about what being in the new Congress looks like from the other side of the aisle.
Representative Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL with no prior experience in elected office, has emerged as one of the stars of the new Republican class. He survived a crowded primary race and a runoff for the Republican nomination last year, en route to winning his Houston-area district.
But real fame came shortly after the election, when Mr. Crenshaw, who wears an eye patch because of an injury he suffered in Afghanistan, appeared on “Saturday Night Live” to rebut the comedian Pete Davidson, who had mocked Mr. Crenshaw as looking like a “hit man from a porno movie.” The two offered a sincere plea for civility, and a political star was born.
Since then, Mr. Crenshaw’s staunch support for President Trump’s border wall and his fiery presence on social media have some Republicans calling him the conservative answer to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
We recently talked with Mr. Crenshaw about the wall, social media and civility in politics. The interview was conducted before Mr. Trump agreed on a border deal, but we decided to leave in those parts of the conversation, because the debate over the wall isn’t going away anytime soon. As usual, our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Lisa: You came into Congress in the middle of the shutdown. Was that frustrating? I mean, you’re here to make a difference, presumably, and you enter in a stalemate.
Dan Crenshaw: The frustrating part for me is why we were shut down. You can’t just be mad at a shutdown. You do have to take a side. And in the end, this shutdown boils down to $5 billion over basically extending the authorizations we’ve had in the past. That’s what’s frustrating, that we’re actually arguing over that.
Well, it’s about the wall, right?
Sure. To me, it’s frustrating that we can’t come to a deal. I mean, the idea of a government shutdown, it’s a consequence of our system. The president is under no obligation to sign the spending bills that Congress gives to him. And once that happens, once he says no, then you’re supposed to negotiate. So the frustrating part was to see how the Democrats refused to negotiate.
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That didn’t really make it out into the media very much because — I mean, we can say it all we want, but the media, generally speaking, the CNN pundits and The New York Times, will generally call it the “Trump shutdown,” because he owned it initially. I get that. But once he owned it, he asked to negotiate, and I think that’s a pretty fair ask. He did not have anyone to negotiate with. So that was frustrating, to watch that play out from the inside.
Now, it looks like maybe the deal will be less money for the wall, or some kind of fencing.
The semantics over wall versus fencing, first of all, are highly misleading. Trump’s plan has been what normal people would describe as fencing for a long time now. I get that he still calls it a wall. But that’s because in our English language a normal person would go up to what we have on the border right now and say it’s a wall, or a fence, and they’d both be right.
What we’re actually talking about is steel bollard fencing. Again, it’s a mass misinformation campaign by the other side on this. And that’s been amplified by a lot of the media, is that we’re just talking about 2,000 miles of, like, concrete wall. It’s so unbelievably false.
I want like a giant reset button to be like, “O.K., let’s start the debate over,” because I wasn’t here when we started the debate. Now I am. I’d like us to be very honest about what we’re talking about.
Sounds like you’re describing a messaging problem for Republicans.
I don’t have all the answers, but I think the way I’d describe the right way to message is to help people understand the “why” behind the “what.” It’s like, why do I believe we need extra fencing down the southern border? And in a deeper “why” than just, “Hey, it’s security and murders and crime.” Some of that’s true, but it leads us into a debate about how much crime and how much drugs.
The “why” is: We enforce our laws, and because we believe in our own sovereignty, and I believe that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be able to cut in front of legal immigrants. That’s a better “why.”
Traditionally in Washington, there was an idea that as a new member you come in and keep a low profile. You — and other freshmen — are clearly taking a different approach. Why?
A spotlight on the people reshaping our politics. A conversation with voters across the country. And a guiding hand through the endless news cycle, telling you what you really need to know.
There was no, like, decision point. They listen to me because I just have a large following, and yeah, I got famous on national TV.
There’s a sequence of events that drew us here. It’s like, you know, why is A.O.C. [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] famous? It’s just that story of beating Joe Crowley. Once that hooks people, and you’ve got that following, that’s sort of self-perpetuating. There isn’t really a rule, necessarily, that the leadership tries to keep freshmen from talking.
You’ve used some of that platform to call for a return to civility. What does that look like for you?
It just looks like, don’t question the other people’s character.
You can be pretty sharp, particularly on Twitter.
Yeah, I can be sharp. But what I never say is, you know — let me give an example of what they do to us all the time. “You can’t say that because you’re a white Christian man.” That’s not civil. That’s avoiding the debate of ideas and attacking a person because of who they are. That’s not O.K.
I will attack ideas very hard. I am not shy about that one bit. So I don’t want people to think that because I had a call for civility that that means I shy away from debate and that I’m agreeable. That’s not the case. What is the case is that I will not question who you are as a person.
You can say that your ideas are bad for America, and frankly un-American, but don’t say the person is a traitor. That’s the line that we should aspire to, at least in the short term.
Do you think the president crosses that line?
Well, let’s see. I’m trying to think of some examples.
Lyin’ Ted, Liddle Marco, Horseface. I can keep going.
Yeah. Those are examples. Sure.
So name-calling, in general, is bad, and then what I see from the other side is like, if you’re calling someone a racist, bigot, homophobe — and they have their list, right? And that’s terrible. You know what, with everything happening in Virginia right now, are we all on social media calling him a racist? No, actually, we’re saying you did something racist. See, that’s the difference. To say someone is a racist, versus saying you did something or said something that could be perceived as racist.
You think there’s a way to unwind this new tone?
Just be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That’s the only way.