Though Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) represents a relatively competitive Houston-area district, he's been a conservative stalwart during his brief congressional career. The Texas Republican voted with the Trump White House more than 90% of the time in the last Congress; he signed onto a brief asking the Supreme Court to help overturn the 2020 presidential election; and he's endorsed new voting restrictions based on far-right confusion about reality.
With a record like this, it's tempting to assume that Crenshaw would be a darling of conservative activists everywhere. And yet, as NBC News noted yesterday, the GOP congressman was nevertheless heckled at a political event this week when he said the 2020 race wasn't stolen.
In the clip, posted to the YouTube channel of Bobby Piton, a Republican Senate candidate in Illinois, Crenshaw says: "Don't kid yourself into believing that's why we lost. It's not." Piton appears to interrupt Crenshaw by shouting, "You're wrong," and saying he has "plenty of proof" that the election was fraudulent. Crenshaw responds: "Five different states? Hundreds of thousands of votes? You're kidding yourself."
As a video from the event helped demonstrate, the comments were not well received. They were, however, accurate.
What the Texas Republican asked the conservative attendees to accept is reality. As conservative and reliably partisan as he is, Crenshaw apparently sees value in having the GOP and its voters acknowledge and understand why Donald Trump lost.
But that's clearly not going well. In fact, after clashing with the congressman at Wednesday's event, U.S. Senate hopeful Bobby Piton's campaign labeled Crenshaw a "RINO" -- Republican In Name Only -- and an "intellectually dishonest" lawmaker who doesn't care about "freedom loving patriots."
On Twitter, Piton added that he believes Crenshaw is "corrupt" and "crossing over to traitor status."
As a rule, it's best not to make too much of one far-right candidate picking an ugly fight and using needlessly provocative rhetoric. Next year, Crenshaw is likely to win re-election, while the odds of Piton winning a U.S. Senate race in Illinois are poor.
But the incident speaks to a larger truth: in much of the GOP, embracing the Big Lie has become a litmus-test issue. It's not enough for Crenshaw to embrace Republican orthodoxy on practically every issue under the sun; he still has to confront far-right pushback for accepting legitimate election results.
There's no reason to believe this dynamic will improve as the party looks ahead to the 2022 midterm elections.