Dan Crenshaw: Heir to the Neo-Conservative Throne

by | May 11, 2022 | Politics, Republican Party

Of all current US House members, Representative Dan Crenshaw has amassed the biggest campaign war chest apart from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. While this might seem odd for a congressman representing a solid red seat newly-drawn just for him, his long-term goal of Republican ascendancy explains the matter. A significant portion of his $11 million election fund has gone to conservative candidates nationwide in races ranging from the U.S. Senate all the way to local school boards, and no member of Congress has given more to the Republican Party’s Congressional Leadership Fund than Crenshaw.

As the Houston Chronicle reported in April, Crenshaw’s involvement in other campaigns helps him create “good will with other future members and alliances on Capitol Hill that can help him pass legislation, secure committee positions and grow his role in leadership in the House.” This influence operation is already bearing fruit in the recent U.S. House primary wins of longtime Crenshaw associates Wesley Hunt and Morgan Luttrell, and a multitude of other candidates he has endorsed are likely to arise victorious in their races.

His massive fundraising efforts also make him a dangerous contender for senator or governor if either position opens up, and he has been careful not to rule out a future run for president. This possible endgame is best demonstrated in the annual Youth Summit he holds in Houston, where he spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to appeal to young conservatives who could potentially serve on the front lines of a future bid for higher office.

To some political observers, Crenshaw might seem more moderate and anti-Trump than other prominent Republicans. In December, Politico painted a highly sympathetic portrait of Crenshaw as “a stalwart conservative willing to criticize other conservatives” like the QAnon-believing Marjorie Taylor Greene, and his vocal defenses of Liz Cheney as someone with “a hell of a lot more backbone than most” might come across to some as an act of political moderation. However, these statements are colored by their strong prior relationship. Indeed, prior to her excommunication from Republican leadership, Cheney had cultivated Crenshaw as a significant House ally on conservative stances like a highly interventionist foreign policy.

Furthermore, the manufactured image of Crenshaw as a moderate relative to his fellow Republicans is blatantly fictional. Corbin Casteel, a political consultant who was briefly the Texas director of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, stated to the Texas Tribune that, “when Dan Crenshaw was elected, he was considered one of the next true conservative fighters alongside Ted Cruz.” In the same Tribune story, Crenshaw himself admitted “there’s not a big ideological difference” between his views and those of MAGA Republicans like Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan, who attracts much more praise from the alt-right.

The differences instead come from public persona, with Jordan associating with the radical aesthetics of Donald Trump and Crenshaw more with the restrained approach of neo-conservatives like Cheney and her father Dick, though Crenshaw also leans into Trumpian showboatery as in his militant Reloaded ads that betray the very “performance artist” quality he claims to see in other members of his party.

Moreover, even Crenshaw’s somewhat more controlled political strategy still propagates the same dangerous policies of banning abortion, gutting the social safety net, prioritizing the interests of oil and gas companies over the existential oncoming threats of climate change, and attacking American democracy as he did in the lawsuit filed to invalidate election results in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Crowning him the king of the “new right” in Texas, conservative columnist Nicole Russell said in an interview with the Texas Standard that she hopes Crenshaw could represent “a new kind of conservative movement that has upgraded themselves from Trump” while still retaining the same policies as the twice-impeached president.

In the meantime, Crenshaw will continue trying to ride the line between the old and new Republican parties. While he makes waves on the national political stage for supposedly breaking away from the practices of Donald Trump, his far-right values make him unlikely to truly do so, and nothing depicts this false hope better than the centerpiece of Crenshaw’s campaign conference room as described in a recent New York Times piece: an altered painting of a Texas Revolution battle scene that shows him as a soldier in buckskins, fighting alongside the Trump sons as the former president on horseback pumps a fist in support.

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