Republican congressman decries socialism at ASU event

The afternoon speech attracted a mix of supporters and protesters

A rising star in the Republican Party, Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw, took to ASU's Tempe campus Wednesday to decry the supposed rise of socialism among young people. 

The event, which was sponsored by Turning Point USA's ASU chapter, gathered a group of supporters and curious onlookers to listen to a lecture on the ills of socialism. Crenshaw started his talk by saying that the majority of young people who support socialism don't actually know what socialism is, pointing to a survey where supporters supported both socialism and smaller government.

Posters advertising the event showed the congressman punching Karl Marx in the face. 

Crenshaw said socialists and his colleagues on the left are too focused on inequality. 

"If your focus is always on inequality, you are always going to get to a conversation like we're having today," Crenshaw said. "Which is that totalitarian socialism is the only way to solve all of your problems."

Crenshaw also decried identity politics, which he called an "unsustainable cultural narrative" propagated by the left, adding that "the only colors that should matter are red, white and blue."

Ryan Wilson, a senior studying innovation in society, said that while he doesn't share strong views on socialism, he came to see what the congressman had to say. 

"I view myself as a moderate, although I lean more right," Wilson said. "I want to see what their views on it are, then I'll form my own thoughts." 

A wave of popular socialism washed over some voters on the left with the 2016 primary campaign of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The movement solidified its place in the mainstream with the election of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) in 2018.

Crenshaw, who was also elected in the 2018 midterm elections, is a rising star of a similar caliber among young Republicans, according to the chair of Arizona’s Federation of College Republicans and political science sophomore Judah Waxelbaum. 

"He got involved in politics fairly recently and he is, in layman’s terms, the Republican Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, our version of this young congressional class that’s swept the nation," Waxelbaum said. "I would consider him the future of the Republican party."

Waxelbaum echoed Crenshaw’s alarm over the sudden rise in popularity of socialism among younger voters, pointing to the fact that these voters never experienced the existence of the USSR, which was disbanded in 1991. 

"If we don’t remember history, we are doomed to repeat it," Waxelbaum said. "I think it is incredibly dangerous, every socialist country to ever exist has ended miserably." 

But proponents of modern socialism often point to social democratic Nordic countries, like Denmark and Finland, as proof of socialism's success. 

Socialism's burgeoning popularity has put a spotlight on groups like the Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU, who have seen an uptick in membership and interest since the 2016 election.

Jake Morris, a sophomore studying earth and environmental studies who handles tabling for YDSA at ASU, said the group's membership has nearly doubled since the beginning of the year. 

Morris rejected the argument that socialism is explicitly to blame for millions of deaths in Venezuela and the former Soviet Union, citing the inability to accurately account for causation. 

"When people attribute millions of deaths to socialism, it is a very vague sort of a number," Morris said. "How is that measured? What specifically is killing people? Did socialism actually contribute to those numbers?" 

Crenshaw ended his talk by sounding the alarm on what he said is a turn toward and unsustainable culture in American politics. The solution, Crenshaw said, is to return to values of personal responsibility, "mental toughness," and a sense of duty, virtue and liberty.

When socialists in attendance were asked to come forward and ask questions, no one responded, save for one student who called both Crenshaw and TPUSA Nazis before running off into the crowd.

Morris said YDSA at ASU makes a point of not engaging with events or people who try to provoke a reaction from the club because they are the socialist group on campus.

"We are asked a whole lot and enticed to participate in 'debates,'" Morris said. "We really don’t want anything to do with that. TPUSA is really not worth our time."  

Morris also said events like Crenshaw's at ASU have driven people to support socialism in the past. He noted that the founder of TPUSA, Charlie Kirk, approached the YDSA table to debate Morris and other organization members last month, drawing a crowd and ultimately leading some people to actually join YDSA.

Morris said TPUSA's sole existence was to counter the rise of socialism in America.  

"TPUSA wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the popularity of socialism," he said. "So they owe us a lot, I think."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the major of Jake Morris. It has been updated with the correct field of study.


Reach the reporter at isaac.windes@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

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