My graduate school, The Institute of World Politics, mentioned my recent commission in the Texas State Guard. I appreciate their support and encouragement, especially that of Derrick Dortch, who encouraged me to join the Guard. Below is the article.
Brendan Steinhauser (’13) has had quite a few achievements in his career thus far: He has been recognized by Time magazine as one of “40 Under 40 Rising Stars;” he and his wife have co-founded their own successful public relations, government affairs, and political consulting business; and he has been teaching on the faculty of St. Edward’s University. This year, he has taken on a very new experience: he has recently completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) for the Texas State Guard (TXSG).
What inspired him to serve in this way, in mid-career when his hands are already full?
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey came through his home state of Texas. “It was devastating,” remembers Brendan. “I had a lot of family, friends, and acquaintances who were impacted by it. I know folks who rescued people on boats and drove buses to get evacuees out of harm’s way. My wife and I helped with food banks.”
This experience prompted Brendan to think seriously about engaging in some sort of service to his community. After considering volunteering for the Red Cross, he and his wife had twins. After two years of domestic chaos, Brendan again contemplated serving in some way.
“As I began to think about different experiences that I wanted in my life and didn’t have, the military was high on the list,” said Brendan. The problem was that he was in the middle of his career with three kids: active duty and being away from his family for a long deployment did not seem like an attractive option.
He decided to reach out to Derrick Dortch, IWP’s Career Director: “I always found Derrick to be helpful to other IWP students, and I watched him make himself available to anyone who asked. I figured he would be the best person to help navigate my options with regard to the military, but also to help me figure out generally how to serve in the wake of the pandemic, civil unrest, and other challenges.”
After understanding what Brendan wanted to do, Derrick suggested the Texas State Guard and helped Brendan navigate the process. Brendan commented, “I am appreciative of Derrick for his counsel and his advice. It says a lot about him and about IWP that he took the time to work with me, even though I got my degree in 2013. He was extremely helpful throughout the process. It means a lot to me.”
After enduring walks through winter water and crawling through freezing mud, Brendan graduated from OCS first in his class in academics. He commented, “The IWP education helped prepare me for OCS in terms of the reading I had already done about leadership and statesmanship, including about good and bad leaders in history. In OCS, we researched and wrote papers on military leaders and studied the philosophy of leadership. I also went in with some knowledge of how the military operates. There were some surprises along the way, but studying military history and the role of the military in a free society at IWP contributed to my understanding of how it operates.”
The TXSG OCS that Brendan experienced is modeled on the Army OCS at Ft. Benning, and the training and headquarters are located right near Brendan’s home in Austin. He was able to complete OCS without dropping the ball in his day job, where he advises political candidates, elected officials, nonprofits, and individuals on political and public affairs issues. “My clients were very understanding during OCS,” said Brendan. “They were congratulatory and appreciative.”
Brendan’s next step with the TXSG is to rotate to different departments within headquarters to get exposed to the work that they do, including personnel, communications, shelter building, and the Texas Emergency Tracking Network. They will probably also be helping distribute vaccines. Soon Brendan will get his first assignment to a unit. “There is no shortage of work to be done in Texas,” said Brendan.
When asked whether a State Guard would be a good option for other IWP graduates, Brendan said, “Without a doubt, especially for those of us who are in a stage of life with a family and full-time work obligations, but a desire to serve in the military. It can be hard at times with the training and deployment, but you can make it work.”
This weekend, I became a Second Lieutenant in the Texas State Guard. I received my commission at Camp Mabry in Austin with seven of my Officer Candidate School classmates. About eight months ago I enlisted in the Guard in order to serve Texas in times of natural disasters, emergency response, and homeland security. The pandemic and civil unrest were stark reminders to me that I needed to serve my community, state, and country in times of need. I decided that state military service was a great way to do that.
The training that we received was intense, but also a lot of fun. I trained for and passed the Army Physical Fitness Test, learned a lot about military leadership, and picked up new skills like land navigation and search and rescue techniques. OCS culminated in a 24-hour mission in near-freezing temperatures without sleep, very little food and water, and lots of physical and mental obstacles along the way. The training was tough, but very rewarding. I learned a lot about myself, especially since I decided to enlist at the age of 39. I am very excited to receive my assignment, continue training, and to lead troops in the field.
I am grateful to my entire family for all of their support and encouragement along the way, especially
Randan Marie Steinhauser. She was my rock throughout this process, and was patient with me and my new commitments. My Dad, Mike Steinhauser, pinned my new rank, and SFC
Brent Connett rendered my first salute as a 2LT. Derrick Dortch encouraged me to look into the Guard, and provided invaluable advice and guidance from day one. I could not have completed OCS without the support from these individuals, my seven classmates, and the entire TXSG OCS cadre. I am very grateful to all of you!
I spoke recently with The Dallas Morning News about what to expect in Texas government and politics in 2021. Below are a few of my quotes.
On Covid-19 restrictions in the Texas Capitol:
“This will make it even harder for the public to engage in the legislative process,” he said. “If you’re an activist on any given topic it’ll be harder for you to have an impact.”
On the limited revenue outlook for the 2021 legislative session:
“Everybody’s fighting over less money,” he said. “Texas is growing tremendously. We have a lot of needs for our people. Infrastructure, education, health care. Our list goes on and on and on.”
“It’s about power. It’s a long-term thing,” Steinhauser said. “It’s a way for Republicans to solidify gains over the next decade.”
On the prospect of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott making moves toward a presidential campaign in 2024:
“It’s never too early to start thinking about that,” Steinhauser said. “If we watch closely and observe carefully, we’ll start seeing Abbott and [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz and others interested in running in the future take a hard look at things, raise money, perhaps make some trips to Des Moines, Manchester, Concord, Columbia, Charleston.”
I joined George Seay on his podcast "Seay the Future" to talk about life, business, and politics. George is a friend and client who is a very successful businessman in Dallas. He has a sharp mind, and asks great questions. Listen to the episode and let me know what you think about it.
I sat down recently with Luke Macias, a conservative operative here in Texas, to discuss the 2020 election, and what it means for the country and the state. Luke hosts a podcast called "The Luke Macias Show" and he invited me on to break down what happened and why. We certainly did our best to analyze the results, but there were some surprises on election night. Click here to watch the podcast interview.
I am always proud to see coverage of the campaign I led for Senator John Cornyn in 2014. Here is a good article in The Houston Chronicle about the campaign, and how unique it was. We had a lot of success winning over Hispanic and Asian voters in Texas due to our innovative outreach efforts.
As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn launched his last re-election campaign, his campaign manager, Brendan Steinhauser, remembers the senator telling him: “If the Republican Party looks like me in the future…we’re not going to be able to survive.” Cornyn spent the next several months not worrying about the Democrat running against him — who he easily defeated — but instead trying to diversify his base, running ads on TV and radio in five different languages, sending campaign staff to naturalization ceremonies, Holi festivals and more.
The efforts drew national attention, and there’s evidence they worked. Exit polls show Cornyn narrowly won the Hispanic vote, closing what had once been a 20-percentage point gap.
I recently shared my experience donating blood plasma in order to fight COVID-19. My wife and I were sick back in March and April, but recovered over time. After doing so, I was urged by my cousin Annie, who is a nurse in Austin, to donate blood plasma. The antibodies in my blood are being used to treat COVID-19 patients. I've agreed to support We Are Blood's efforts to get more people to donate their blood plasma. Here is a recent TV interview that I did on the subject.
Recent attacks on The Epoch Times have made it nearly impossible for me to stay silent on why I have chosen to work with their team. Last summer my firm, Steinhauser Strategies, was hired by The Epoch Times to help build their brand and increase their influence among conservatives who share their values of truth and tradition.
I was somewhat familiar with The Epoch Times from my time in Washington, D.C. where I would see their newspaper in bins at metro stops throughout the city. I knew that they were virulently anti-communist, were founded by survivors of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and were advocates for religious liberty in China. I was excited to provide strategic advice, open some doors, and make connections for this group so that they could increase their influence in the White House, in Congress, and in the conservative movement.
Over the past year, The Epoch Times has had tremendous success becoming part of the conservative movement as a media group. I attribute this to a few different factors: their values of truth and tradition, their anti-communist stance, their passion and unparalleled work ethic, hiring talented people, and investing in online marketing.
Given this success, and the fact that the Chinese Communist Party sees them as an existential threat, I am not surprised that MSNBC hosts like Rachel Maddow and Ali Velshi are attempting to discredit them. It is interesting, however, to note the similarities between the progressive hosts' attacks and those of the communist regime in Beijing.
It is unfortunate that MSNBC is essentially parroting the regime's propaganda against the media group, as well as the tens of millions of practitioners of Falun Gong. Especially given the fact that former Chinese dictator Hu Jintao stated that Falun Gong practitioners should be eradicated. It does make me wonder who is providing the attack lines to the media about The Epoch Times, although I believe it has become rather clear.
Any and every American that believes in freedom of expression, free speech, religious liberty, and classical liberal values should stand with political and religious dissidents that uphold and practice these values. As mentioned above, some of the founders of The Epoch Times were survivors of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and were arrested and tortured. They fled to the one place in the world where they knew that they would be free and safe to practice their faith tradition, speak out about the evils of communism, and uphold traditional values. I am sure they did not expect to be targeted so viciously by one of the biggest media companies in America.
With the regime in Beijing cracking down on the religious liberty of Christians, Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners in China, and as it sends troops to the border with Hong Kong and threatens violence there, one would think that the mainstream media would be focusing its attention and criticism on the real threat to freedom and democracy: the communist government in Beijing. But instead, at this very moment, MSNBC is trying to take down a media group and a spiritual community that may pose a threat to the regime in the form of encouraging a billion Chinese and millions of Chinese expatriates to think for themselves, speak out against communism and authoritarianism, and to practice their faith traditions.
I cannot think of a better time for all Americans to stand with Chinese political and religious dissidents of all stripes, whether they are Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims, Christians, or pro-democracy protesters. All Americans, especially the media, should stand for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. It's not too late to do so.
Brendan Steinhauser is a conservative political strategist and Partner at Steinhauser Strategies. He has a Master's degree in Statecraft and International Affairs from The Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and Global Studies at St. Edward's University in Austin.
This week I shared my thoughts with The Texas Standard about the special election being held in November to replace outgoing state representative John Zerwas. I explained that Fort Bend County is changing rapidly, and reflects the demographic shift taking place throughout Texas. You can listen to the piece by clicking here.
People have to believe that you care about them, before they will consider voting for you. And the best way to get them to believe that you care, is to show it, again and again. The Republican Party is at a crossroads, and the decisions it makes in the next two election cycles will have a profound impact on the future of the country, and on the party.
Republicans, and their intellectual bedrock, conservatives, believe in maximizing freedom while maintaining order, or as some have called it, “ordered liberty.” Free people should be allowed to pursue their lives, liberties, and happiness without unnecessary government control or regulation. We believe that free markets work better than command economies like socialism, and we can point to centuries of history to prove our point. And we know that traditional family values, two-parent households, and religion, bind civic society and make communities stronger.
All this being said, Republicans must do a better job explaining how these basic principles apply to the American people in their daily lives. And we must demonstrate that not only can we point to data, logic, and facts, but we must demonstrate that we care about people, and want to see every person achieve their full potential. We cannot rely merely upon history, nor persuasive numbers and metrics, but we must also rely upon sharing our true compassion for all human beings, and the daily struggles that everyone faces.
For the Republican Party to win national elections into the future, it must add to its repertoire of campaign issues some of the following: improving health care through a patient-centered approach, lifting up people in poverty through educational choice, ending human trafficking, reducing the scourge of opioid addition, reforming the criminal justice system, and of course, finding compassionate solutions to our border security and immigration problems.
Now, to be clear, this does not mean that Republicans should change our principles or merely pay lip service to these issues. Instead, we must apply our principles and continue to come up with policy ideas that not only uphold those principles, but also serve to fix problems. The good news is that we already have some great stories to tell. In the past couple of years, the administration and Congress have achieved great things on some of the issues mentioned above, including reducing the number of deaths due to opioid addition for the first time in a long time. They have also passed historic criminal justice reform laws like the First Step Act, which is saving lives and money by helping formerly incarcerated prisoners transition successfully to life on the outside.
On these and other issues, our rhetoric must match our actions, or people will not take us seriously. We must talk like we care, and we must act like we care, and most importantly, we must actually care. For the Republican Party to win national elections in 2020 and beyond, we must demonstrate an authentic concern for our fellow human beings, regardless of their backgrounds, religion, ethnicity, or even ideology. Independents are on the rise nationally, and the Democratic Party has a clear advantage looking into the future: demographics. Young people, single women, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans, vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The Republican Party is in danger of becoming merely the party of white males. The demographic changes in this country are clear and stark, and if we do not heed them, we could find ourselves reduced to a regional party that holds some seats in the U.S. House and Senate, but rarely, if ever, the White House. This is not only a political imperative, but a moral one.
Conservatism, in its views on the family and social cohesion, as well as in its upholding the laws of economics, is a superior political philosophy to socialism. History is quite clear on this question, and so are the data. However, the political party most closely aligned with conservatism, the GOP, must make it clear to voters why and how this is so. But it must also prioritize the arguments about how and why conservative ideas and policies are best equipped to lift people out of poverty, deliver a quality education, provide for accessible and affordable health care, reduce crime while saving money, break the tragic cycle of addiction and despondency, and provide for the most vulnerable among us. Conservative principles do all of this and more, and are based on immutable natural law and human nature. But we must explain how and why that is so, and then we must demonstrate these truths with love, compassion, and genuine concern and caring.
If we can re-orient our thinking and our message along these lines, we will vastly improve our chances of winning now, and winning in the future. And when conservatism is ascendant in this country, people are better off, both morally and economically. That is a cause worth striving for, and it demands our full attention and self-awareness. I pray that we are up to the task.
Brendan Steinhauser is a conservative Republican operative in Austin, Texas who has worked in more than forty states on issue and candidate campaigns. He has consulted a number of congressmen, conservative organizations, and individuals. He is a partner of Steinhauser Strategies, a public relations, government affairs, and political consulting firm.
I spoke with KXAN News 36 about the importance of using rhetoric that brings people in, as opposed to pushing them away. For the Republican Party to win in 2020 and beyond, we have to show people that we are not only the party of liberty and opportunity, but that we care about people.
I shared my thoughts on the future of Texas politics with The Wall Street Journal.
Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes could shift the presidency to the Democrats for a generation, Republicans acknowledge.
“Democrats have been saying this for a while, and some people have rolled their eyes…but I think people realize now that it’s a serious threat,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Austin.
Below is the full article.
After Near-Win in 2018, Democrats Hope to Flip Texas Blue
By Joshua Jamerson
March 11, 2019
DALLAS—Democrats from across the country passed through Texas over the weekend with dreams of reaching the White House, a stark reminder for Republicans that an energized Lone Star State Democratic electorate could help the party take back the presidency next year—and potentially for a generation.
“I’m looking for some blue Texans,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) told a crowd of about 700 people here on Sunday. She told reporters afterward that Democrats can flip the state into their column in 2020 because “people in Texas are fired up.”
For decades Democrats have hoped for statewide success in Texas, keeping an eye on the state’s growing urban areas and surging Hispanic population. Texans haven't sent a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But Democrats see former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s close race against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz last year as progress on which they can build in the 2020 fight to oust President Trump. Republicans, for their part, are looking to fortify a longtime GOP stronghold.
Mr. Cruz won about 4.3 million votes to Mr. O’Rourke’s 4 million in 2018, a victory that came by less than 3 percentage points. In the previous midterm election, Republican Sen. John Cornyn earned 2.9 million votes to his Democratic opponent’s 1.6 million—a 27-percentage-point spread.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said the DNC sees millions of Texans who sat out during the 2018 midterm election up for grabs in 2020.
“You get a tenth of those to get out and vote, we can flip Texas,” he said in an interview. “The trend data is in our direction.”
Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey acknowledged Republicans are at risk of losing races in Texas next year.
“By spending at least $80 million in just the Senate race in Texas in 2018,” he said, referring to Mr. O’Rourke, “Democrats improved their numbers down-ballot and awakened Republicans countrywide to the risk that Texas faces in 2020 unless we devote the resources and energy we must.”
Mr. Dickey said the state party hopes to add more than a million additional Republican voters in Texas for the 2020 election over 2018, to beat back Democratic gains. He said Mr. Trump’s policy agenda in Washington would bolster turnout.
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll last week found that 51% of Texans would definitely or probably vote for someone other than Mr. Trump for president, while 49% said they definitely or probably would vote to re-elect him.Texas’ 38 Electoral College votes could shift the presidency to the Democrats for a generation, Republicans acknowledge.
“Democrats have been saying this for a while, and some people have rolled their eyes…but I think people realize now that it’s a serious threat,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Austin.
Texas is also a big prize in the Democratic nominating contest. In the 2016 primary, Hillary Clinton won 147 of the state’s more than 200 pledged convention delegates, compared with 75 for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Comfortable victories in big, diverse states like Texas, California and New York helped Mrs. Clinton put Mr. Sanders away.
“I think it’s time well spent,” Mr. Perez said of Ms. Warren’s stop in Dallas. The Texas primary is on Super Tuesday in March, after the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Several Democrats running for president made a weekend swing through the South by Southwest festival in the liberal hub of Austin, including Ms. Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Mr. O’Rourke attended the premiere of a documentary, “Running With Beto,” a behind-the-scenes look at his 2018 bid.
Mr. O’Rourke said he has reached a decision about whether to run for the Democratic presidential nomination but hasn’t stepped into the already crowded field.
Democrats also have their sights on six GOP-held House seats in Texas, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Twitter last week called “ground zero for us in the next election.” The party’s House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is preparing to dispatch field organizers in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio suburbs.
Meanwhile, the House GOP campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, has identified Texas seats held by Democratic freshmen Reps. Lizzie Fletcher of Houston and Colin Allred of Dallas as top targets to flip back into the Republican column.
Democratic voters here are hungry to see their state turn blue.
At the Warren event in Dallas, Diana Parr, a 74-year-old retired medical lab worker, said a Democrat who can energize voters who, like her, don’t vote in every midterm election can make the state competitive in a presidential race—“Kind of like Beto did,” she said.
Sam Lawson, 73, of rural east Texas, took in the O’Rourke documentary premiere Saturday at Austin’s Paramount Theatre with his wife Laurel Mayer, 67. The couple have volunteered and raised money for Mr. O’Rourke.
“Flipping Texas should be a primary objective for any Democrat in 2020,” Mr. Lawson said.
I spoke recently with Jill Ament of The Texas Standard, a statewide radio show, about the changing demographics in Texas and their impact on the future of Texas politics and government.
“All of these districts were closer than expected and it had a lot to do with the Beto factor, it had a lot to do with straight-party voting, and it also had something to do with long term trends of Texas politically,” says Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based Republican strategist.
Steinhauser says looking ahead, his party needs to be taking these close margins seriously because the battlegrounds of the future will be Texas’ suburban and urban areas.
“The demographic trends will continue, the enthusiasm on the left will not abate, and I think that Republicans will have an uphill battle and will have to fight for every last vote in 2020 and especially in the next election after that,” Steinhauser says.
How do Republicans in Texas plan to fight? That’s something Steinhauser says he and other people in his party are trying to figure out. He thinks one step could be moving away from divisive rhetoric and returning to a platform that’s focused on fiscal issues like keeping taxes low, and focusing on transportation, education and healthcare policy.
“These are principles that are well within in the Republican platform and well within the tea party, conservative idea of governance,” Steinhauser says.
I interviewed with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the U.S. Senate race in Texas between O'Rourke and Cruz. Watch below.
This excellent book by an agnostic academic makes a convincing case for the historicity of Jesus Christ, a real, living, breathing, human being in history who changed the world forever. This is not a theological or philosophical book, but rather a scholarly attempt to show skeptics and mythicists that Jesus of Nazareth was a historic figure, not only a religious one. The author, Bart Ehrman, a professor at The University of North Carolina, takes on the ludicrous idea of the mythicists that Jesus never existed, and that he was merely a religious figure concocted by people who lived after him. Erhman draws upon the historical record, including the Gospels, pre-Gospel sources, Josephus, Tacitus, the letters of Saint Paul, and other sources to make his compelling case.
Any Christian or even non-Christian who is faced with the arguments of the mythicists can rely upon Ehrman's book for its research, cogent argumentation, and intellectual honesty. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the historicity of Jesus, the New Testament, Christianity, or even Middle Eastern history more broadly. I look forward to reading Ehrman's other books about similar topics.
I just finished this sweeping history of the rise and fall of Prussia, from 1600 until 1947. It chronicles the rise of Brandenburg and the ruling Hohenzollern dynasty, including the famous Frederick The Great. The author makes a convincing case that Prussia was an artificial political construct rather than a place with its own unique cultural tradition. While Brandenburg had such an identity, what became "Prussia" did not.
As the Hohenzollerns added to their territory they brought in disparate places that had little in common other than being generally Germanic. The Hohenzollerns ruled over East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Pomerania, Silesia, and a few other smaller areas. Prussia included much of modern day Poland, which was divided up between the Russians and the Prussians for about a century.
As Prussia began its wars of conquest and territorial acquisition, it became the unifying force within the German heartland, replacing Austria as the Germanic hegemon in Central Europe. By 1871 Prussia under Kaiser William I and Otto von Bismarck had unified Germany and declared the new German empire. The high water mark of Prussia and the German empire occurred not too long after that declaration, as Germany allied with Austria-Hungary and eventually the Ottoman Turks leading up to World War One. By the end of the war, the Kaiser had abdicated and political revolution swept through Germany, bringing on the tumultuous years of the Weimar Republic, and eventually the rise of the Nazis.
The book is worth a read to anyone interested in Prussian and/or German history, and it rejects a few misconceptions along the way. At more than 680 pages it is an investment of time, but is well worth it for the student of German history who wants to fully understand how this one time nation-state came to be, and how it came to its ultimate demise.
Jonah Goldberg's book, "The Suicide of the West" is a deep dive into what makes Western Civilization, and specifically the United States, uniquely good. He makes the argument that ideas matter, or as Richard Weaver put it, "Ideas Have Consequences." Jonah's writing weaves in and out of topics including politics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and economics. He compares the tribal and barbaric impulses of man to the vast improvements of civilization.
He critiques the cultural and political trends that are threatening our civilization, and offers some very recent and important examples in the conclusion of his book. He uses the appendix to prove that economically speaking, Americans in particular have seen incredible improvement due to capitalism and the rule of law. His charts, graphs, and other data points provide convincing evidence that as my old boss Dick Armey used to say, "Freedom works."
The "Suicide of the West" is a great book, and should be read by all Americans, but particularly conservatives and Republicans. The book asks the reader to take a hard look at the values we are upholding versus the ones we should be upholding, in order to preserve the West, and avoid contributing to its self-destruction.
This week I appeared on My Campaign Coach podcast with Raz Shafer to discuss how Dan Crenshaw was able to pull of an incredible upset victory in the Republican primary election for Texas's 2nd congressional district. CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast, which runs about 40 minutes.
I got the call one day in the fall of 2017. A thirty-three year old Navy SEAL wounded in Afghanistan by an IED wanted to discuss running for Congress to replace the retiring Ted Poe. The medically retired SEAL, Dan Crenshaw, had lost his right eye in the IED blast, spent days in a coma, recovered by the grace of God, and with typical SEAL grit and determination had found a way to get back in the fight. He told me he had re-deployed twice after losing his right eye and making his recovery. “Wow, I knew SEALs were tough, but seriously?” I asked myself.
Dan Crenshaw had immediately earned my respect and appreciation for his ten years of elite military service and the courage he displayed throughout his ordeal.
But now we were talking about the next phase of his life, and how he could best continue to serve. He had been encouraged to run for Congress by our mutual friend, and he had the support of his wife and best friend, Tara. But he wanted to think things through and make the best decision possible. So we spent some time talking about what a run for Congress would look like, the sacrifices he would have to make, and the toll it would take on his family.
I encouraged Dan to run, and reminded him that he had nothing to lose by doing so. I told him that he had a great story to tell, and he could win, if we could reach enough voters in time. But we’d have to run a nontraditional campaign in the few weeks that we had before the primary election in March. He made a few more calls, prayed about it, thought about the pros and cons, and then decided to jump in the crowded field of candidates for U.S. House District 2 in Texas.
From the moment Dan decided to run, we knew that we had to act quickly. We also knew that we would not be able to compete on TV and radio with the millions of dollars that other candidates would have at their disposal. This was going to be a guerrilla campaign utilizing an integrated field and digital approach to target voters efficiently and effectively. Luckily for me, Navy SEALs know a thing or two about how to win using asymettrical tactics.
We worked quickly to build the campaign website, facebook page, twitter handle, email templates, and other online platforms that we would need. We acquired CD 2 voter data from Voter Trove, a cutting edge data company based in Austin. We filed the paperwork, set up the bank account, and finalized Dan’s biography. One of the unique elements of this campaign was that Dan wrote most of his own stuff: his bio, his policy positions, and his public statements. He was a rare breed of candidate: someone who thought about and cared about the ideas as much as the strategy and tactics of campaigning.
From the moment we launched the website and the facebook page, I could sense the potential for momentum. The first ad we posted on facebook captured the imagination of thousands of people. Here was a picture of a Navy SEAL all decked out in his gear, with his helmet and rifle. The photo was clearly taken either on the way to a mission, or on the way back from a mission. Either way, here was an image of an American warrior doing his duty, serving his country in a combat zone thousands of miles away from home. And the caption textualized the image: “My service to my country does not end on the battlefield.” Dan Crenshaw had served on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and now he was asking to serve in Congress. The ad nearly “broke the internet.”
We knew that we had a special candidate, that voters inherently trusted veterans, and wanted to send representatives to Washington who could be trusted to do their duty. Now we had to make sure that enough voters in the 2nd district were aware of Dan before they went to cast their votes in the primary on March 6th.
We focused the next few weeks on increasing Dan’s brand awareness through social media, especially through email, facebook and twitter. He also began making fundraising calls so that he could pay for the essentials of any campaign. In the beginning, many donors and voters were noncommittal, but Dan worked on them one by one, and did start out with a loyal following of volunteers. He and his family attended local Republican and tea party club meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and many other social and civic gatherings.
We captured as many photos and as much video as we could to provide an inside look into the campaign, and into Dan’s heart and mind. And we pursued an aggressive earned media strategy that got him on local and national television, radio, and podcasts. Once each interview was over, we blasted it out to our supporters on social media and encouraged them to share the clip. This transparency and proactive earned media approach is not common in political campaigns, but we knew its power.
We also knew that we would have to rely on committed volunteers to help us reach voters directly at their homes and on their phones. Everywhere Dan went he seemed to pick up another handful of volunteers that wanted to help. So we began to organize them by precinct and empowered them with the tools they needed to spread the word about Dan.
We printed and distributed thousands of field signs, yard signs, door hangers, and palm cards throughout the district. We encouraged our supporters on social media, armed with Dan's message, to make the case for Dan to their friends and family. And we eschewed costly television ads that air to hundreds of thousands of people completely outside the district. Instead, we beefed up our online presence with ads promoting our campaign videos, graphics, and earned media clips. We systematically identified likely Republican primary voters based on their past voting history, and targeted them efficiently with door knocks, phone calls, digital marketing, and direct mail.
As early voting approached in late February, I could already sense our momentum. But then the candidate himself came up with an idea that was crucial to our victory. Dan called me and said, “Brendan, I’m going to run the entire length of the district in five days.” I replied, “You mean you are going to run 100 miles.. in five days?” The Navy SEAL who had been through hell and back replied, “Yes, and we are going to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims along the route.”
And that’s how Dan Crenshaw Forrest Gumped the race for CD 2.
The facebook live videos of his run were incredible. One video would feature Dan speaking directly to the camera about how Houston was still devastated by the flooding from Harvey. The next video featured Dan running off into the distance, a man with a mission.
Then, after a few days, more people started to recognize him, and they honked their horns or stopped to talk with him. One day a group of veterans showed up driving military vehicles adorned with American flags, and escorted Dan to the next stop on his run. Then a man along the route came up and gave Dan an American flag to carry with him as he ran. The image was powerful: a Navy SEAL running for his country, for his district, for his community.. How could the voters send someone other than that man to Congress to represent them?
As early voting continued, the momentum only increased. Local television crews and newspaper reporters came out to interview Dan on his run, and the images went viral on social media. There was something special happening in the 2nd congressional district, and I was seeing it in the data and in the feedback I was getting from staff, volunteers, donors, and the media.
Our Get Out the Vote calls were showing about 10% support for Dan just before early voting started. But by the end of the early voting period the calls were showing 30% support for Dan. The trend lines were incredible, and I excitedly reported the findings to Dan and the team. We figured that we would under perform with the mail in ballots but we would over perform during early voting and Election Day, and we did just that. Election night was nerve wracking, and required a lot of frantic math, but it was also great fun.
As the first results came pouring in, they showed Dan down in the mail in ballots. But as the early voting numbers came in, we could clearly see that we had plenty of room to make up the difference. Every time more numbers came in, I did the math to see if we could make it into the runoff election, and every time more results came in, we closed the gap.
In the end, we jumped ahead of the third place finisher by 155 total votes out of more than 48,000 cast. We had shocked the political world in Texas, besting a self-funded candidate who poured $6 million into the race and spent most of it on television and radio. Dan Crenshaw, a non-politician and political neophyte, had beaten big money, big endorsements, and big odds. He sprinted into the runoff election on May 22nd with continued momentum, and despite an onslaught of a million dollars in negative, personal attacks against him, he won the day again. He ran away with the race, getting 70% of the vote to his opponent's 30%.
And he did it with honor and class. He responded to the negative attacks but he never returned them in kind. He kept the moral high ground, ran a clean race, and proved that voters are hungry for heroes that they can trust. We didn’t run a single television ad in the runoff, spent very little on radio, and instead poured resources into direct voter contact, as we had in the first round of balloting. Dan remained an open and transparent candidate who would meet with anyone, talk to anyone, and even give out his cell phone number. He was not, and is not, your typical politician. He is someone that the voters can be proud of, and someone who appeals to our better angels.
As a political strategist, it is refreshing to work with a candidate like Dan. I am glad that we ran a unconventional campaign that did not look and feel like politics as usual. It was necessary, in my view, but it is also a better way to run campaigns. Tell a story, connect directly with the voters, utilize the power of face to face contact and social media, and stay positive in the face of negative, nasty personal attacks.
If more candidates and operatives subscribed to this type of campaigning, perhaps we would all be better off. We certainly showed that such a candidate and such a campaign can win the day. And we will show it again in November.
In one of our campaign videos Dan shares a memory about his late mother. He recalls, “The first hero I ever knew was my mother. I watched her fight cancer for five years. She never quit, she never complained, and she never stopped taking care of us. She told me something before she died. She said, You will soar to great heights.”
I have no doubt that Dan will keep soaring to even greater and greater heights. And our country will be better off because of it.
Brendan Steinhauser is Dan Crenshaw’s political strategist and a partner with Steinhauser Strategies, a public relations and political consulting firm based in Austin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last night I joined Karina Kling and Harold Cook on Capital Tonight to discuss the latest news in the 2018 elections. We talked about new polling out in the Texas gubernatorial race, as well as the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke.
I appeared on Capital Tonight on Spectrum News, which airs in Austin and San Antonio. I joined host Karina Kling and the outgoing chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party, Vincent Harding. We discussed the latest news developments, as well as Texas politics.
I joined a political panel on CBS Austin to discuss the recent primary elections in Texas. We talked about the various races and candidates that are making news in Texas this year.
Here is my interview this morning on KTRH radio in Houston about trends in higher education. I was asked about the rising costs and declining value of a four year degree, given that college campuses have become a hotbed of far left ideas.
Brendan Steinhauser is a national political strategist focused on campaigns, media, and public policy.