The Trump Platform is Alive and Well
Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) was able to win her seat in Congress after being appointed to HUD by Trump and receiving a Trump endorsement, even when Trump couldn't beat Biden in the same District.
The power Trump had previously wielded over conservative voters in 2016 had waned in some places last November, but Republicans won all the Texas seats Democrats had targeted, and the GOP kept control of the state legislature. Perhaps even more telling was the outcome for Beth Van Duyne, the former Mayor of Irving, Texas, who ran for Congress in the 24th District and won when Trump lost.
Van Duyne was not expected to fare well in the diverse Dallas suburbs that many had hoped would be reluctant to elect Trump-like Republicans in 2020. But, in Texas’ 24th District, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke beat Republican Incumbent Ted Cruz in 2018, Van Duyne outperformed Trump. Van Duyne won a tight race in her swing district comprised of much of the suburban area between Fort Worth and Dallas — the same District that Joe Biden ultimately won.
As the Republican Party tried to regroup following the loss of the presidency in 2020, it was clear that this kind of Van Duyne result was not a fluke. Nine other House Republicans were able to win their seats despite Trump losing the district, which further complicated the liberal narrative that Texas is slowly but surely “turning blue.”
Ultimately, the Van Duyne strategy of igniting and maintaining fears of foreigners proved successful in several places and didn’t make her unelectable in suburbs as Democrats had hoped. This phenomenon ultimately proved that while Donald Trump may be mostly finished, “Trumpism” is still the driving force for many conservatives within the party.
Beth Van Duyne was elected Mayor of Irving in 2011 after imitating the successful Islamophobic rhetoric strategy of Rep. Louis Gohmert. Rep. Gohmert announced on the House floor in June of 2010 that terror cells are plotting to breed future terrorists inside the United States. Gohmert postulated about a fantastic and unverifiable epidemic that stoked fear into middle America and coined the term “terror babies” to describe it.
Gohmert explained to Congress, “It appeared they would have young women who became pregnant [and] would get them into the United States to have a baby-they wouldn't even have to pay anything for the baby." Gohmert continued, “…and then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists and then one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life."
Van Duyne gained national prominence in February of 2015, when she doubled down on stoking suburban fears of Muslims by inaccurately responding to reports that Sharia law was taking a firm hold in Texas in a Facebook post. In response to stories about a Muslim mediation panel comprised of arbitrators who were intent on settling civil disputes through Sharia law, the Irving Mayor helped facilitate the conservative lie. With sensational reports of a new Muslim tribunal located in a mosque, Van Duyne began referring to the tribunal as a “court” and warned that foreign law can’t be applied when it “violates public policy, statutory, or federal laws.” Indeed it can’t, and indeed it wasn't.
The decisions of the actual experimental forum were non-binding, which means that any local, state or federal US law would always take precedence, and the participants were not bound in any legal way to a decision. Imam Moujahed Bakhach, one of the three other religious tribunal judges, confirmed as much to the public: “We have no authority to force anybody or to make it binding upon if they don’t like it or don’t except it.”
Bakhach explained that the Muslim religious and moral code, known as “Sharia,” guided the process. The judges sought to offer up their services to cases involving divorce, business problems, and other community disputes to settle minor disputes quickly. Dr. Taher El-badawi, another tribunal judge, elaborated on the process: “There are no disputes at all because we deal with — just fix — and deal with the religious part — we cannot deal with anything else, even in the civil law.”
The statement made by Van Duyne that “Sharia Law Court was NOT approved or enacted by the City of Irving” was pointless because no such court existed, and she knew it. Her additional statement: “Our nation cannot be so overly sensitive in defending other cultures that we stop protecting our own-the American Constitution and our guaranteed rights reigns supreme in our nation and may that ever be the case,” was just a basic, old-school racist dog-whistle intended to heighten tensions further.
The anti-Muslim tactic was not unusual, but the effect it had on the Dallas suburban demographic was. In 2010, Muslims accounted for less than 2 percent of the entire Texas population, but two-thirds of Texas Muslims resided in the greater Houston or the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Outside the major cities, such as Texas’ 1st District, Louis Gohmert can get away with outlandish statements like the ones he made in June of 2010 — this should not have been the case in Irving.
The complete lack of fear for politicians in espousing Islamophobic rhetoric that would alienate Muslims and many other liberal suburban voters was proven to work in 2011 and 2015, thanks to Van Duyne. The same strategy of attacking “outsiders” also worked again for Van Duyne in 2020, even when it didn’t succeed for Donald Trump in the same election.
Playing to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican base remained as effective in 2020 as it was the decade before — the success appeared only to be dependent on the messenger. Van Duyne’s close association with the Trump administration never waned, as evidenced by her 2018 appointment as US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regional administrator overseeing Texas and its four surrounding states.
Van Duyne had also been one of the few mayors of a large city to back Trump in his 2020 presidential campaign — she even had Trump’s public endorsement and still won the seat. Beth Van Duyne is also not originally from Texas. She was born in upstate New York, and her family moved to the Dallas area for the warmer weather when she was a teenager. She attended Cornell University in New York and returned to Texas, as an adult, to work in marketing and communications.
It might be tempting to overlook Donald Trump’s ongoing influence over the Republican Party due to his uncharacteristic silence over the past few months, such as the continued and unexplainable loyalty House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy continues to show Trump, even after his insurrection almost got McCarthy killed. But, Van Duyne’s election is even more telling, and the principles ascribed to Trump still remain popular among conservatives.
As long as “loser Trump” is not delivering the message directly, the bulk of the Republican Party appears content to continue to vote in favor of Trumpian policies, which ultimately supports Trump and his power over the GOP. Considering Trump’s epic fail in the 2020 election, his latest move to transform himself from puppet to puppet master and continue an omnipotent presence could be seen as impressive — if only it weren’t so alarming.
Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC Radio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @mamasreallyrule.
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