Home News Meet Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL and onetime Trump critic being called a GOP star

Meet Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL and onetime Trump critic being called a GOP star

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Last week, Dan Crenshaw was a little-known congressional candidate from Houston and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, the former Navy SEAL with a distinctive eye patch is being lauded as a Republican rising star and a “unifier” to keep track of in the coming years.

Crenshaw, 34, was elected to the U.S. House on Tuesday, beating out Democrat Todd Litton in the vacant Houston-area district. His victory came three days after he was mocked on “Saturday Night Live.” In the episode, comic Pete Davidson said Crenshaw’s eye patch made him look like a “hit man in a porno movie.”

Crenshaw lost his right eye while serving in Afghanistan six years ago. The joke drew widespread and heated criticism on behalf of the veteran. 

But his victory Tuesday night, his unique backstory and his message of unification has thrust him suddenly into the national spotlight. TV interviews on CNN and Fox News followed his win, as well as praise from GOP activists across the country. 

“A for-real rock star,” Jacob Monty, a Houston attorney and GOP and Latino activist, said of the congressman-elect. “He totally gets the importance of using rhetoric and words that appeal to Latinos. The guy, in my estimation, is Latino.”

Originally from Houston, Crenshaw lived in Ecuador and Colombia as a youth, while his father worked in the Texas oil and gas industry. He is fluent in Spanish. He later became a Navy SEAL and served several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In 2012, Crenshaw was on a mission in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when a homemade land mine  went off directly in front of him, killing his interpreter and destroying his right eye and nearly blinding him altogether. He medically retired from the military in 2016, after 10 years serving on SEAL teams and earning two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart and the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor.

He’s supported some of Trump’s stances on immigration, such as building a border wall, but also criticized Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. On his Facebook page, Crenshaw slammed then-candidate Trump’s “insane rhetoric” toward Muslims and “hateful” speech. Opponents used the 2015 post in attack ads against Crenshaw during the Republican primary in May, labeling him an “anti-Trump liberal.”

Crenshaw still won the primary, propelling him to Tuesday’s matchup.

In a July essay he wrote for National Review, Crenshaw said it was time for a “reset in relations” with Mexico and urged leaders to tone down the rhetoric.

“Immigration reform and border security here in the U.S. are necessary and urgent parts of the solution, but so is recognizing that Mexico is a partner on this issue, not an enemy,” he wrote.

Monty said he was impressed by Crenshaw when the candidate – in the midst of a heated congressional race – took the time to speak to a gathering of Texas Latino Republicans in September. He started out by talking about playing soccer in high school in Colombia and time spent in Latin America – all in fluent Spanish. 

Even though he shares policy stances with Trump, Crenshaw’s cultural sensibility could go a long way to bringing in more supporters, Monty said.

“If the president wants to learn something, he should follow the Crenshaw method, and you’ll win the popular vote and the Electoral College, as well,” he said. 

At his victory speech Tuesday night at Houston’s Cadillac Bar, Crenshaw acknowledged the “SNL” jab at him and insisted he wasn’t offended. “I’m from the SEAL teams; we don’t really get offended,” he said.

In an interview with Houston’s KRIV-TV after the speech, Crenshaw said he was encouraged by how voters in the Houston-area – both Republican and Democrats – were respectful of him and one another. 

“There’s still a love of each other and a love of your neighbor,” he said. “That’s the kind of representation we need to bring to Washington.”

Follow Rick Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.

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