All The Republicans Elected In Districts Biden Won Are Relatively Mainstream-- Except Beth Van Duyne
Most of the districts that Biden won but where Republicans also won congressional seats, elected pretty mainstream Republicans-- no one like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mad Cawthorn or Lauren Boebert-- or almost no one. There weren't many Biden districts where Republicans won congressional seats, just 9:
CA-21- David Valadao
CA-25- Mike Garcia
CA-39- Young Kim
CA-48- Michelle Steel
FL-27- Maria Salazar
NE-02- Donald Bacon
NY-24- John Katko
PA-01- Brian Fitzpatrick
TX-24- Beth Van Duyne
And that last one, Beth Van Duyne is the outlier-- a hardcore Trump nut, with not a mainstream bone in her body. This morning, reporting for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan wrote about Van Duyne's last brush with notoriety, in 2015 when she was mayor of Irving between Dallas and Fort Worth, and proudly came out waving her own personal Islamophobic flag, locally and nationally.
Suburban TX-24 is about equally divided between blue-leaning parts of Dallas County, solid red parts of Tarrant County, along with a smaller but not insignificant blue-leaning chunk of Denton County. Most of Irving is in TX-33 south of the district. TX-24 spreads out from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and its main towns are Carrollton, Euless, Farmers Branch, Addison and Bedford. The new PVI in this once deep red district, that had been represented by conservative Kenny Marchant, is R+2... quite flippable. Beto O'Rourke beat Ted Cruz in the district in 2018, 51-48% and two years later Biden did slightly better-- 52-47%.
Last cycle a relatively progressive Democrat, Candace Valenzuela, lost out to Van Duyne very narrowly-- 167,910 (48.8%) to 163,326 (47.5%), despite Valenzuela outspending Van Duyne $4,875,031 to $3,342,442. Outside-spending was heavy for both women-- but somewhat in favor of Valenzuela. Van Duyne outperformed Trump and, worse yet, Valenzuela was "beaten by the exact kind of candidate they thought voters were done with. The contest was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 'most bitter loss,' as one Texas Republican strategist told Fox News... Van Duyne’s victory suggests that her 2015 strategy of stoking fears of foreigners didn’t make her unelectable in a diverse, growing suburb-- and may have even aided her. Trump may be gone, but Trumpism is very much alive."
A few years into her [mayoral] tenure, Van Duyne started to look beyond typical mayoral matters, such as cutting taxes by half a penny, and to the culture wars. Some Texas politicians were already flirting with Islamophobia: Republican Representative Louie Gohmert claimed in 2013 that “radical Islamists” were being “trained to act like Hispanic[s]” so they could sneak across the border. Trump had already spent years implying that President Obama was Muslim, and won widespread press coverage for it. “At that time, trashing on Muslims was very politically popular,” Gears told me.
One local Facebook group, in particular, tended to attract posters who were both pro–Van Duyne and anti-Islamic, Selk told me. “It was just wall-to-wall racism,” he said. Several members of the Facebook group “absolutely feared and hated Muslims.” Though Van Duyne did not participate in the racist conversations, she did pop up occasionally to check in with constituents. And the tenor of the discussion meant Islamophobia became a “good issue” for her, Selk said.
In 2015, Van Duyne seized on a claim, promoted by the conservative site Breitbart News, suggesting that a Muslim court in Irving was operating under Sharia law. She swiftly posted a condemnation of the idea on Facebook. “Recently, there have been rumors suggesting that the City of Irving has somehow condoned, approved or enacted the implementation of a Sharia Law Court in our City,” she wrote. “Let me be clear, neither the City of Irving, our elected officials or city staff have anything to do with the decision of the mosque that has been identified as starting a Sharia Court.”
The “Sharia Law Court” was in fact a mediation panel for resolving disputes among Muslims in Dallas. These types of mediators exist for Christians and Jews too, and the area’s Islamic community said its panel complied with American laws. The fact-checking site Politifact rated “false” the claim that Muslims “attempted to establish the first Islamic Sharia court inside the United States in the town of Irving, Texas.”
Nevertheless, Van Duyne went on Glenn Beck’s show to denounce the panel. “Equal treatment under the law doesn’t seem to exist,” Van Duyne told Beck. “I think you need to put your foot down and say, ‘This is America; we have laws here already.’ If you want to consult, if you want to arbitrate, that is well within our law … I’ve got no problem with it. But setting up a separate court-- setting up separate law-- is not anything.”
Beck cut her off. “This is an actual court?”
“Correct,” Van Duyne responded, inaccurately.
Afterward, Van Duyne pushed the Irving city council to pass a resolution endorsing a Texas House bill that would bar “foreign” laws from superseding American laws. The measure was widely known as an “anti-Sharia” bill, and it thrilled the state’s far-right Republicans. It might strain credulity that a big-city mayor with an Ivy League education would actually believe that Sharia law was about to take over the state of Texas. To some, Van Duyne’s Sharia scaremongering seemed more savvy than sincere. “I think it’s a policy position that she already held, but then she may have pushed it further, such as through a vote in the city council, due to political aspirations,” says Mark Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University.
Van Duyne framed her proposal as an issue of women’s rights. “When you have women whose testimony is equal to half that of a man’s, how can you defend that if that is happening in our country?” she asked at a 2017 forum. It’s hard to argue with that—which was, perhaps, exactly the point. The Dallas Observer has called Van Duyne “a Trumpist Republican before Trumpist Republicans existed.” And she did display a preternatural ability to play one of Trump’s favorite tunes: “Our nation cannot be so overly sensitive in defending other cultures that we stop protecting our own,” Van Duyne said at the forum.
...Soon, armed anti-Muslim protesters descended on the Islamic Center of Irving, citing, in part, the “Sharia court” flap as their motivation. They published the names and addresses of Irving Muslims, terrifying the community.
...Van Duyne went after the people her constituency already didn’t like-- the media, Muslims-- and it paid off with growing exposure, more media attention, and ultimately bigger jobs. In 2017, Trump appointed her as a regional administrator within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, responsible for overseeing issues such as disaster recovery and economic development across Texas and four other states.
Van Duyne wasn’t one of those reluctant career bureaucrats who held their nose as they did Trump’s bidding. She had been one of the few mayors of a large city to back his presidential campaign. After leaving HUD, she ran for Congress as a supporter of Trump’s policies, won his endorsement-- and, last November, won the seat.
A newly elected member of Congress who prevailed in a close race in a swing district like Van Duyne’s might be expected to try to acquire a moderate reputation in D.C. Unlike many freshman members of Congress, though, Van Duyne knows she won’t be facing the same voters next year. Because Democrats failed to win control of the Texas House, Republicans will have unilateral control over drawing district lines in the state, and are nearly certain to make Van Duyne’s district even more Republican ahead of the 2022 election. Her Trumpy, conservative reputation means she probably won’t be vulnerable in the next GOP primary, and with a more Republican-leaning district, she’ll be even less likely to be defeated by a Democrat, says Jones, the political scientist.
She has acted accordingly, voting against certifying Pennsylvania’s election results, then criticizing President Biden for undoing Trump’s legacy. She’s even sparred with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter about who used to be the tougher waitress.
Van Duyne’s gender makes her especially valuable to the Texas congressional delegation. Texas Republicans have always had trouble recruiting female candidates, and she’s only the third Republican woman from Texas to be elected to the House-- and one of only two serving now. “In Texas, it’s difficult for anybody to defeat a sitting U.S. House member,” Jones says. “And Van Duyne, as only one of two women Republicans, is likely to be especially protected, in the sense that the GOP realizes it has a serious image problem.”
I asked Barnes, the [Tarrant County] GOP chair, about the most common criticism of Van Duyne: that the way she made a name for herself, pretending to crack down on Sharia law, was not what a growing, diverse-- and partly Muslim-- area really wanted from its leader. “It may be that we are finding that it was more in line with what the citizens of the area wanted and desired out of their mayor … than may have become public at the time,” he said. Indeed, among Republicans in Texas, Trumpism’s appeal endures. Trump remains the most popular Republican politician in Texas among GOP voters-- more popular than Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Senator Ted Cruz, or Senator John Cornyn. Van Duyne is “just reflecting what the Republican base thinks about Donald Trump, and that is that they’re very supportive of him,” Jones says.
Ahead of last year’s election, Democrats had imagined that Trumpist candidates like Van Duyne would seem out of step with a changing Texas. But an ambitious single mother who has become a city-council member, a mayor, a regional housing administrator, and finally a U.S. representative is clearly not out of step. She is walking in precisely the right direction.