Dan Crenshaw Is the Trumpiest of the Wannabe New Trumps
He’s got the same gift for aggrievement and shameless performance. And he’s got real military experience and isn't shy about exploiting it.
Close your eyes, if you would, and picture the next Trump-like president. Who do you see? Maybe it’s seditionist Sen. Josh Hawley, with his simulacrum of the Black power salute, but for white-supremacist storm troopers about to attack the Capitol Building in Washington? Or the oleaginous Sen. Ted Cruz, a patchy-bearded propagandist who spends his days lying about election fraud and picking Twitter fights with Hollywood actors? Or throne-sniffing Sen. Tom Cotton, or former UN Ambassador under Trump Nikki Haley?
But it’s far from clear that any of these awkward, unpleasant profiles in perfidy have what it takes to stimulate the amygdala of Trump’s deplorable devotees. Those who made clear in the Alabama special of 2017, midterms in 2018, Virginia statewides in 2019, and two Georgia Senate races in 2020, that they don't turn out in surge numbers when their One True Love isn't on the ballot.
Hopefully, there won’t be any Trump 2.0, but there is one Republican I can picture pulling it off. You haven't heard quite as much about him, because he’s only a House member, and because it’s challenging to make your batshittery stand out when you’re surrounded by that trinity of trashy truculence that is Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Louie Gohmert. But Dan Crenshaw may just have the combination of shamelessness, cynicism, cruelty, and performative charisma to put Trump’s band back together.
One thing that you have heard about him says a lot about why he may be the one. Back during the 2018 midterms, Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live made a joke about how he was surprised that Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal who wears an eye patch because he lost an eye while serving in Afghanistan, was “a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hit man in a porno movie.”
Cue the ever-grinding, right-wing fake grievance machine, flipping the switch from fuck your feelings to how dare you make fun of ours. Crenshaw milked the faux-outrage for numerous national TV hits, including an eventual joint appearance on SNL with Davidson. There he yukked it up with the SNL cast member before issuing a plea for unity and asking viewers to support veterans, a PR blast even Crenshaw admitted may have helped elect him. Game on.
And this was only an early tryout for what was to come. Because, while Crenshaw still spends a diminishing amount of time playing the role of thoughtful Ivy-League vet for mainstream media cameras, he knows who his real audience is. They're much more likely to be outfitted in Trump Hotel chic than a Kennedy School T-shirt.
What Donald Trump perfected that appealed to these dead enders is hard to match: The fake persona of an ass-kicking alpha, with billions of dollars in NBC promo dollars touting him as a successful titan of business (laughable when you look at his balance sheets) who heartlessly “fired” minions on a whim and luxuriated in the billion (see: million) dollar empire he'd created (see: inherited) as the top dog (see: he actually hates dogs). Ever the clever conman, Trump shone in that role like nothing he’s ever done before or since.
Sure, he’d been appropriating successful-businessman culture in the pages of New York tabloids for years. But that was a drop in the disinformation bucket when compared to what playing the role on TV in The Apprentice, and playing it convincingly, did for his image. The cheeseball fame, cocksure attitude and gauche tastes the show featured were a key part of the dictator brand which Trump cultists couldn't and can't resist. It's Trump living out their greatest fantasies of dominance via unimaginable wealth as power. Think Saddam palace. Or Trump's apartment.
But think about the other part of the fantasy for these weekend warriors, the guys who fill their homes with guns and play militia on their off-time, when not reenacting the the Civil War or watching Chuck Norris flicks. It's the Rambo fantasy. Just them, taking on a platoon of (likely minority) soldiers, or better yet, baby-blood chugging libruls. In their commando dreamscape—which they acted out in our Capitol—they use their superior force to bust through all barriers and save (see: white) America.
This part was more of a challenge with Donald of the bone spur brigade and gelatin waistline. So they created cringey posters of him with a Rocky Balboa body, took it to the point of glorious-leader fetish with John McNaughton's fantasy art.
With Crenshaw, he may not have the wealth, but it doesn't matter because the latter fantasy is an even easier sell. He lacks Cruz’s off-putting personality, Hawley’s whiny schtick and Cotton’s man-who-wasn't there presence. With his stage presence he brings the eye patch and Navy Seal background—essentially an “I kicked ass and here's the proof” tattoo made for MAGA consumption. All perfect made-for-“reality” TV.
Then there’s the cruelty.
In September 2019, a former staffer on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Andrea Goldstein, lodged a complaint that she was sexually assaulted at the Washington VA Medical Center. In response, then- Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie didn’t only not try to get to the bottom of what happened, he worked behind the scenes to smear and discredit her. An Inspector General’s report on the incident and its handling afterwards accused VA leadership with ethical lapses and “unprofessional” behavior.
But guess what else the investigation found? That Wilkie claimed he was approached by his own little guardian angel in Crenshaw, who said he’d served with Goldstein and, without any evidence, called Goldstein a “fraud.” This attack was used by top VA officials in emails to undermine Goldstein and raise doubts about her credibility. In classic ignore-the-subpoena Trumpist atavism, Crenshaw refused to speak with the investigators, who eventually labeled his actions based on the emails and other evidence as “unprofessional and disparaging.”
In addition, Crenshaw brings the final key ingredient to the recipe: utter shamelessness.
Many veterans who run for higher office bring the culture of the military with them, where honor is paramount. It's why you'll see Conor Lamb and Mikey Sherrill arguing forcefully for democracy, and why GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Pete Meijer of Michigan, both veterans, were among the few Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump.
But Crenshaw doesn’t seem to be shackled by a sense of honor, a huge advantage to getting ahead in today’s GOP. Where few other veterans won’t go, he happily treads.
This can be best seen is his tongue-in-cheek creation, “Texas Reloaded,” a seizure-inducing-B-movie, Mission-Impossible-cosplay ad for his campaign, replete with a “Crenshaw Command Center” where he receives a top secret package he's able to read by removing—you guessed it—his eye patch. There’s a British-female-accented digital voiceover, Crenshaw parachuting out of an airplane to “recruit an exceptional team of Congressional candidates,” including numerous ones with military experience and barely legible fine print about how none of this constituted a military endorsement along with at least 15 other items that'd make any normal human feel like hurling from second-hand embarrassment.
But not Dan Crenshaw. He made another one just like it for the December Senate races in Georgia.
This one succeeded in offending those on both sides of the aisle for belittling the uniform. Even the retired military brass weighed in, with Tony Thomas, the former commander of Special Operations Command, writing “Watched this twice now. I was sure it must be an SNL or Comedy Central skit... Nope, just the base(r) level our political environment slips to with each succeeding day… Embarrassing."
But Crenshaw didn’t care, and that’s the key, because like many of today’s GOP’s brightest lights, shamelessness is his superpower. That and, in his particular case, the ability to play the role of the rugged military guy in the same manner Trump plays the tough billionaire boss. That radicalized former members of the armed forces were disproportionately among those who attacked The Capitol makes his appeal even more dangerous and disheartening.
There are certainly many Republicans today taking their cues from a Trumpified GOP. You’d be hard pressed to find an unholy conspiracy theory to which Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t subscribe. Newly elected Congressman Madison Cawthorn, who took a gleeful trip to visit Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, admitted in an email obtained by Abby Vesoulis at Time, that “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislating.” Clearly, policy is for wimps, it’s all in the presentation!
But, when searching for the next tin-pot fascist trying to onload the Trump banner, you should keep an eye affixed to Crenshaw. He has superficial likability, a way to match Trump’s alpha fantasy appeal, the ingrained cruelty and he’ll be utterly shameless in exploiting it all. In Trump’s new GOP, that’s what you might call the whole package.