As House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) clawed his way to the leadership position over a grueling series of 15 votes last week, the rhetoric between warring factions of the party grew particularly heated.
One of the most incendiary figures in the pro-McCarthy camp was Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), who unleashed on the holdouts who were preventing the California Republican from clinching the speakership. During a radio interview on the matter, he declared that “we cannot let the terrorists win.”
His remark attracted instant criticism from fellow GOP officials and conservatives in the media, including Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson.
“Over the past few years pretty much every part of the war on terror has been turned against the domestic political enemies of the neocons,” Carlson said. “What you just saw is the snarling face of the donor class.”
Crenshaw was initially defiant against the backlash, asserting on Wednesday that he had only used “a figure of speech” and told Carlson that he needed “thicker skin.”
Unclutch your pearls. It’s a figure of speech. You can’t insult, slander, and hold everyone hostage with no way out – and not expect me to punch back.
Grow thicker skin. https://t.co/gmwDmfCney
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) January 5, 2023
During a subsequent Fox News Channel appearance, however, he seemed interested in explaining away his controversial remarks by claiming that others in his party have engaged in similar behavior.
“Ted Cruz, I mean he’s called American citizens terrorists multiple times,” Crenshaw said of the U.S. senator from his home state.
He went on to insist that he never actually believed “these people are terrorists” and offered an apology to those who were personally offended by his characterization.
“We were speaking in terms of a very difficult negotiation where sometimes you use a turn of phrase about not giving in to terrorists,” he added.
Crenshaw expanded on that narrative in a segment of CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“To the extent that I have colleagues that were offended by it, I sincerely apologize to them,” he told host Jake Tapper. “I don’t want them to think I actually believe they’re terrorists. It’s clearly a turn of phrase that you use in what is an intransigent negotiation.”
It remains to be seen whether his efforts to backtrack will resonate with the many Republicans who felt his earlier comments were beyond the pale.
“My view is settled down,” Cruz said of Crenshaw a short time before McCarthy secured the speakership. “This will work out and it’ll be fine. That kind of overheated rhetoric, calling people ‘terrorists,’ is not terribly conducive to anything resembling Republican unity. It’s not conducive to having strong leadership for the next two years in the House, engaging in vitriol and personal attacks.”