(Courtesy/Brandon Herrera campaign video, Tony Gonzales Facebook)

In Battle for Shriveled Soul of GOP, Congressman Beats Youtuber

Videos making light of the Holocaust and the Troubles were not enough to get Brandon Herrera over the hump against Tony Gonzales.


On Tuesday evening, incumbent Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales narrowly bested his far-right challenger Brandon Herrera, of shooting-guns-on-Youtube fame, by a little more than one percentage point in the pair’s GOP runoff contest for Texas Congressional District 23. Gonzales, a combative politician with some moderate views, will likely win reelection comfortably in November and continue to represent Texas’ politically mercurial 23rd, a majority-Latino and solidly Republican district that sprawls across 29 counties from San Antonio to El Paso.

The result appears to expose some limits to the influencer-turned-politician model, at least in this strangely cut swath of the Lone Star State, and is likely good news for Republicans aiming to hold onto their small majority in the U.S. House this fall.

Herrera, a recent San Antonio transplant in his late twenties, has a Youtube channel with more than 3 million followers on which he posts videos of himself firing, handling, and talking at length about various firearms—accompanied by commentary that some, it would seem, find humorous. He’s used his platform to make light of both the Holocaust (referring to a certain German gun as “the original ghetto blaster” and “Hitler’s street sweeper”) and the Troubles in Ireland. Herrera has also jested about high veteran suicide rates, and, in comments perhaps especially offensive to a GOP primary electorate, he’s joined in mockery of ex-President Donald Trump’s youngest son. 

In other words, Herrera was an oppo researcher’s dream.

Gonzales, a Trump-supporting centrist (a thing these days, apparently), had gone hard against Herrera, calling him a “known neo-Nazi.” The congressman had also taken the gloves off against two of Herrera’s backers in the U.S. House—Floridian Matt Gaetz and Virginian Bob Good—saying the former had “paid minors to have sex with him” and generally attacking his party’s hard-right flank as including “scumbags” and wearers of “white hoods.” (Gaetz has not been criminally charged with the behavior alleged by Gonzales.)  

Herrera, joining the Texas GOP, had attacked Gonzales over the latter’s 2022 support of an acutely milquetoast gun reform bill, which he voted for just a month after 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in his district. Herrera, who calls himself “the AK guy,” played a part in an inactive explosive device being left in December outside of the store where the Robb shooter acquired a rifle prior to the massacre, according to the Uvalde Leader-News.

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Last decade, District 23 was Texas’ swingiest Congressional seat: In 2014, the consummately moderate Republican Will Hurd unseated a Democratic incumbent by two points and proceeded to successfully defend his seat by a point or less in the subsequent two elections. In 2020, after Hurd declined to run again, Gonzales won the seat by a comparatively cushy four-point margin—outperforming Trump in the district by two. State Republicans then redrew the district to be redder, and Gonzales secured reelection by a luxurious 17 points in 2022—outperforming Abbott in the district by seven. The far-right Herrera (along with others who ran in the March GOP primary for the seat this year) apparently saw the more heavily Republican version of the district as winnable in November if Gonzales were ousted.

Many national GOP leaders, set to defend a razor-thin House majority this November, are likely breathing a sigh of relief, as Herrera’s nomination might have presented a slim opening for Democrats to steal the red district back. Gonzales had out-fundraised Herrera more than three-to-one between January and early May, and he’d also been endorsed by Texas’ Republican governor and lieutenant governor.

Gonzales had sounded confident nearly to the point of hubris about his reelection odds, saying at one point: “Anybody who wishes to challenge me—it’s a fool’s errand. I’ll run you into the deep end of the pool every single time and drown ya. So, I welcome it.” And he’s even pledged to campaign against House colleagues who backed Herrera, including Gaetz, who faces a primary challenge later this year. “I plan to spend a lot of time in Pensacola,” Gonzales has said.

Whether Sunshine State electors care what a 2-term Congressman from San Antonio thinks remains to be seen. What seems known, however, is that voters in Texas’ 23rd would be just fine if Gaetz kept his opinions over on the other side of the Gulf.