Beto O’Rourke has flamed out. It’s not just me saying it. Polls have shown him slipping for weeks and on Wednesday Quinnipiac confirmed the worst. The one-time wonder Beto O’Rourke is at 5 percent, behind every other first-tier candidate.
You can thank, or blame, women who make up almost 58 percent of the primary electorate for Beto’s decline. Disproportionately, they don’t like him.
According to my unscientific poll asking every woman I see, Beto reminds them of the worst boyfriend they ever had: self-involved, convinced of his own charm, chronically late if he shows up at all, worth a meal or two but definitely not marriage material. When he should be home with the kids or taking out the trash, he’s jamming with his garage band or skateboarding at Whataburger. He’s “in and out of a funk” which requires long and meaningful runs to clear his head. Every thought he has is transcendent, worthy of being narrated, videotaped, and blogged. He is always out finding himself. At age 46, the man asking to run the country is currently lost.
It’s an old story, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, whom we fall for briefly and then quickly move on from. But it’s harder for the population at large to snap out of it. A fresh face is all the rage, someone authentic without the varnish of political consultants and the canned bromides of speechwriters. When he burst on the scene, or jumped on the counter, to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz, people all over Texas came out to swoon over him, although not quite enough of them to actually elect him.
It says a lot about Beto that in defeat he didn’t take long walks alone in the woods like Hillary Clinton to mull what happened, or, as John McCain joked, sleep like a baby—waking every two hours to cry. His reaction to losing to arguably the most disliked man in the Senate was to declare he would be running for president. This is like failing to land a role in your community theater production of Hair and deciding to take your talents to Broadway.
This preoccupation with self helps with the first part of campaigning, an appeal to the heart. He sails through the door labeled white-male-enter-here with his good looks, toned body, and a light tan. He’s maybe a bit better-looking but also just like you in his no-iron Oxford, getting his unflossed gums poked at.
But he’s way short on how he would govern, issuing his first big policy proposal this week on climate change. It’s a clip and paste job, something borrowed, something less than purely green, with a hole big enough for his home state oil barons to build a mile-wide offshore drill on. Weighing in at $5 trillion, it gauzily promises to “meet this moment,” a line in almost every speech. It all makes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s half-baked Green New Deal look like the Manhattan Project.
He also touched on health care last week in San Francisco in a room that holds 600, when in Oakland a month prior Sen. Kamala Harris drew 20,000. He name-checked her as he put forward his mushy plan against her single-payer one, noting his mother’s conversion from the GOP to vote for him as evidence his split-the-difference proposals can cover all bases.
Who needs policies when, with hardly any, you get coverage women candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren yearn for. She has actual proposals on how to give the working class a fighting chance in an economy where they earn $7.75 an hour and Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney earns $65.7 million a year, more than 1,000 times the median salary of all Disney employees.
He’s all about free media, which has been very good to him, pitching himself to Hollywood as a lone seeker of truth, combining Kennedy hair and teeth with Obama’s cool jazz moves plus wild hand movements. Before Biden got in, Beto had the males from Obama White House at hello, and possibly Obama himself. Pod Save America is devoted to lionizing him. He landed that movie deal with HBO’s Born to Run, streaming soon on a television screen near you.
Unlike O’Rourke, permanently at sea, Obama’s journey ended when he graduated and moved to the South Side of Chicago to be a community organizer. O’Rourke became a nanny for a family living in a classic six on the Upper West Side and wandered aimlessly about for another couple years trying to learn what it’s all about... He complained about that portrait of him in a long New York Times profile but he was in such a hurry to get to an audience with Oprah he blew off the Times with a short interview. He ignored advice that candidates known by one name should not be seen courting celebrities also known by one name. At least he escaped his Oprah lunch in LA without being given a nickname like Mayor Pete. No way “Battabeep, Buttaboop” gives a young mayor who’s left South Bend home alone more gravitas.
Women feel Amy O’Rourke’s pain, even if she doesn’t. He was home for five minutes before he was off again. The kitchen where he made German pancakes for posting to his Instagram page was meticulously organized for him to swoop in as if he were taping an infomercial for a non-stick griddle. Right after his announcement, he blithely admitted his wife, who held a Nancy Reagan gaze for three minutes, would raise the children, “sometimes with my help.” He thought that was amusing. His 8-year-old told him he was “going to cry all day if you run” adding that by all day he meant “every day.”
That sorrow pales next to Beto’s need to seize the day. “I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it,” he told Vanity Fair. Not many women seem to agree.