So, GetReligion readers: Are any of you among the dozen or so people interested in American life and political culture who has not seen the famous Weekend Update appearance by Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live?
That face-to-face meeting with Pete Davidson included lots of memorable one-liners (and one really snarky cellphone ringtone), but one of Crenshaw’s first wisecracks carried the most political weight: “Thanks for making a Republican look good.”
No doubt about it: The new congressman’s popular culture debut has become a key part of his personal story and his high political potential.
Thus, that recent Politico headline: “Is Dan Crenshaw the Future of the GOP?”
The basic idea in this feature is that Crenshaw is a rising GOP star whose approach to politics is distinctly different than that of President Donald Trump and that the former Navy SEAL and Harvard guy is striving to maintain independence from the Trump machine. Then there is personal charisma. That SNL appearance is as much a part of his story as his eye patch.
Naturally, this means that more than half of the Politico article is about Trump and how Crenshaw is walking the fine line between #NeverTrump and #OccasionallyTrump.
Repeat after me: Politics is real. Politics is the only thing that is real.
However, since this is GetReligion I will once again note that certain facts of life remain important in this era of Republican politics. How do you write a major feature story about Crenshaw’s GOP political future without addressing his appeal to cultural and religious conservatives? As I wrote before:
… (It) is hard to run for office as a Republican in Texas (or even as a Democrat in large parts of Texas) without people asking you about your religious beliefs and your convictions on religious, moral and cultural issues. This is especially true when your life includes a very, very close encounter with death.
So let’s start here: If you were writing about Crenshaw and what makes him tick, would it help to know what he said, early in his campaign, during a church testimony that can be viewed on Facebook? The title is rather blunt: “How faith in God helped me never quit.” …
I’m … going to say, “Yes,” because we’re talking about politics in Texas. Also, the language in that church testimony are rather strong. It sounds like faith is part of his story — period.
So, what does the Politico story have to say about this part of Crenshaw’s life and public profile? The answer: Next to nothing.
There is a close encounter with “values” voters and cultural issues in the opening anecdote, in which Crenshaw draws a standing-room-only crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
When Crenshaw arrives, the former Navy SEAL speaks about how to inspire “people back home” to embrace conservative values — personal responsibility, limited government, virtue, liberty — over a culture of outrage. “A society full of people who are easily enraged by every tweet they see, or some news story that comes out — so susceptible to outrage culture, so ready to be offended — it’s not a sustainable society. It’s a society at each other’s throats,” he says. Crenshaw doesn’t mention Trump once. The only politician cited by name is John Adams. The Constitution is “wholly inadequate for any other people but a moral people,” says Crenshaw, paraphrasing the Founding Father. Meanwhile, Trump fixer Michael Cohen is across the Potomac testifying to Congress.
One CPAC observer is quoted saying that Crenshaw is a “more family-friendly version of Trump.” Another notes that “he’s not facing accusations of sexual assault, he hasn’t had three marriages, he didn’t dodge the Vietnam draft.”
So what is going on in those quotations? Might that be connected to the congressman’s emphasis on he big ideas and “moral” themes that have, in the past, served as a glue in American culture?
But this is as close as Politico gets to discussing how Crenshaw is approaching some of the divisive political elephants in modern American politics, such as religious liberty, abortion, free speech, the Supreme Court, etc.
The story does not contain a single reference to religion. As I said before, this is hard to do when you’re talking about a politician — left or right — in Texas (yes, even in urban Houston). Here’s another passage in which the Politico team appears to be dancing around these issues:
One observer Crenshaw’s combination of traditional conservatism and rising popularity put him in an unusual position in Congress. He describes himself as a “plain old conservative” — he supports free trade, wants to reform Medicare and Social Security, and thinks American troops should stay in Afghanistan (where an IED took one of the veteran’s eyes) as long as they’re needed to prevent another 9/11. That puts him at odds with Trump, whom Crenshaw has been unafraid to criticize, going so far as to call his rhetoric “insane” and “hateful” during the 2016 presidential campaign. But Crenshaw is more “Sometimes Trump” than “Never Trump.” He is not pushing for a 2020 Republican primary challenge and is not trying to write off Trump’s wing of the party. …
Ah, the “Trump wing of the party.”
That would have to include both the evangelicals who supported Trump in the crowded GOP primaries and those (along with lots of Catholics and mainline Protestants) who reluctantly voted for him in the general election, in part because of fears about Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Supreme Court and religious liberty issues.
Maybe this is part of the Crenshaw story, too. You think? Someone needed to ask about that.