The Corner

NRI Ideas Summit

Is Dan Crenshaw the GOP’s Answer to the Democratic ‘Freshman Class’?

National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson and Representative Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas) (Pete Marovich)

Dan Crenshaw is perhaps ideally suited to weigh in on the increasingly socialist disposition among young Americans. To the extent that the Republican party has managed to find a compelling answer to the sudden popularity of the Democratic rising stars who willingly place themselves on the far Left, it is best exemplified by the social-media savvy Crenshaw, who first skyrocketed to national attention after SNL comedian Pete Davidson mocked him for his eyepatch — which Crenshaw wears after having lost his eye in an IED attack in Afghanistan.

Instead of latching onto his well-earned “aggrieved-victim” status and lashing out at Davidson, Crenshaw chose to respond with grace. From David French’s coverage of what happened next:

Davidson came on the “Weekend Update” set and offered his apology, and then Crenshaw joined. He took some good-natured shots at Davidson . . . but then things took a more serious turn.

Crenshaw briefly spoke of the meaning of the words “never forget” to a veteran, saying that “when you say ‘never forget’ to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them.” Then he addressed his next words to Davidson: “And never forget those we lost on 9/11 — heroes like Pete’s father. So I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.”

Davidson’s father was a firefighter. He died trying to save others when Davidson was a young boy. In one moment, Crenshaw not only honored a true hero, but also softened American hearts towards Davidson, casting him in a new light. He’s a man who carries his own pain.

It turns out that there’s a market for grace in American politics. Within minutes, clips of the apology and Crenshaw’s tribute to Davidson’s dad rocketed across Twitter. As of this morning, the YouTube clip of the moment — not even 48 hours old — already had more than 5 million views.

It was a remarkable moment in our national politics, and it exemplifies the type of influence Crenshaw has proven himself able to exercise as a politician. So far, he has used it well. He doesn’t rival Ocasio-Cortez in Twitter followers — he has 382,000 to her nearly 4 million — but his ability to effectively wield his social-media presence to articulate conservative ideas is a promising sign for the right, which is consistently (and perhaps accurately) criticized for its inability to appeal to younger Americans.

And creative social media isn’t all Crenshaw has to offer. At the National Review Institute Ideas Summit this afternoon, he insisted that the left’s socialist momentum stems from a culture that has made Americans feel disempowered. “That’s why identity politics is so powerful,” Crenshaw said. “It pits you against someone else. It allows you to feel like you’re a victim, and we’ve elevated that status of being a victim.”

Instead, he said, individuals who feel empowered reject victimhood and attempt to rise above the attacks. “That’s what I tried to do when someone made fun of me,” he added, referring to the incident with Davidson.

Crenshaw also offered a theory of why socialism seems to be growing in appeal to young Americans, as well as how conservatives should work to counteract it. “Well-intentioned liberalism always leads to progressivism,” he noted. “It has to. When you start believing that someone else has to be responsible for you, you always have to keep doing more.”

When NR’s Kevin Williamson asked whether he thinks the Left is increasingly serious about actually wanting to institute a slate of socialist policies, Crenshaw replied, “I do fear that they actually mean what they say. They haven’t called for total nationalism of many parts of the country, but they do talk about a lot of things that look an awful lot like Venezuela . . . a lot of things that do have really bad results.”

At the same time, he acknowledged the uneasy alliances on the right that make responding to the left somewhat more difficult. “In the Republican party, there’s now a somewhat uncomfortable coalition . . . between an old labor party and the free-market, pro-business party,” he said, noting that the latter part of the coalition fails to speak to working-class Americans. “They came to Donald Trump, and to figure out why, you almost have to talk to each one of them separately. . . . We have to figure out how to include them and their concerns in a free-market governing system, and we have to be looking for ways to do that. . . . We have to be talking about policies that actually work toward that.”

On the future of the right, Crenshaw remains optimistic, but he thinks it’ll take work: “We have to know more,” he said. “We have to have in-depth arguments.” He also said that the debate between capitalism and socialism isn’t always about substantive arguments. “It is really a culture war, deep down,” he said. “It is about whether personal responsibility should be valued, or it should not.”

The panel concluded with Crenshaw’s ideas on how to appeal to young people, and his theme was clear: “To young people: I’m not going to try to buy you off with promises I can’t keep.” If the Republican party wants to make that message appealing, they should rely on politicians such as Crenshaw.

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