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 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.