Beto’s Back and the Dems Are All Out of Fresh Faces and Ideas
His career is actually not contingent on electoral politics in Texas but, instead, on being a progressive star in the national arena.
The reemergence of Beto O’Rourke, this time as a candidate for Texas governor, is further proof that we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for saviors to rise from these streets. Once a rising star, O’Rourke is likely to end his bid to replace Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as a three-time loser.
Despite this, he will soak up plenty of buzz and money along the way—which is good for O’Rourke and bad for Democrats.
Once a charismatic young Texas congressman from El Paso who shared a bromance with then-Republican Rep. Will Hurd, O’Rourke ran a surprisingly strong race against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 back when Trump was president. O’Rourke parlayed the Cruz loss into a failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Next, he launched a PAC, Powered by People, to help Texas Dems. That also didn’t succeed (as The Texas Tribune writes, “the all-out offensive ended in devastation for Democrats: The Republican won by a large margin”).
Aside from losing elections, he also lost his way. Between 2018 and today, O’Rourke transitioned multiple times from affable “nice guy” to “cool” Gen-Xer to angry woke progressive. “On issues like universal health care, an assault weapons ban, abortion rights and a higher minimum wage,” wrote NPR’s Wade Goodwyn in 2018, “O’Rourke has staked out progressive positions.”
For someone hoping for a future in Texas politics, his move was a weird one. Prior to his run against Cruz, O’Rourke seemed poised to cast himself as a friendly, likeable Democrat who could win over the kinds of people who live in Texas—sort of the Democratic version of Republican Glenn Youngkin’s winning strategy in Virginia. But in the Trump Resistance era, the siren call of social media “likes” and online donations was overpowering. Whether it was righteous indignation or the desire for liberal approval and viral videos, O’Rourke’s positions lurched increasingly leftward, and the centrist Mr. Nice Guy image morphed into someone trying too hard to please woke Twitter.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke roared at one debate, going full “gun-grabber.” I’m not an expert on Texas politics, but this doesn’t seem like a message that will play well in Plano let alone Pampa.
Now, here’s the thing: If O’Rourke really wanted to win this election, he would do what Bill Clinton did after the Republican Revolution in 1994—he would humble himself and reinvent himself. He would realize he got out over his skis too far, and he would say something like, “You know what? I said that after a gunman killed 23 people at a Walmart in my hometown of El Paso. Texans need to know that I’ll support common sense regulations like background checks. But let’s be clear, nobody is coming for your guns.”
That would not be popular on Twitter or MSNBC. O’Rourke would be called a flip-flopper by some. But doing so would dramatically increase his odds of having a future in Texas politics. It would benefit Democrats if he did this.
So why won’t he? Maybe he’s a principled man who is willing to lose continually for the things he believes in. Or maybe he realizes that his career is actually not contingent on electoral politics in Texas but, instead, on being a progressive star in the national arena. For now, these two things are mutually exclusive.
This is a structural problem for Democrats, who have a 78-year-old president whose approval rating is less than half his age, and a bench full of once-rising stars who made the same political calculations O’Rourke made, and now seem more like tired retreads.
Consider the field: Kamala Harris seems better equipped to star in a reboot of HBO’s Veep than to make a good presidential candidate, much less president. Her political skills are non-existent. Cory Booker, who probably has even less authenticity—Je ne sais quoi?—than O’Rourke and Harris, is now headed to New Hampshire to headline a fundraiser. All of them remind me of parents trying their darndest to be cool. They are all what the kids call “cheugy.” And who’s the more authentic moderate alternative? Pete Buttigieg? Don’t get me started.
Of course, the other alternative is Donald Trump—which demonstrates why Democrats’ lack of depth is so perilous. At moments of crisis throughout American history, the right leader—Lincoln, FDR, Reagan—usually emerges. Well, it feels like we are overdue for just such a savior. And frankly, I can’t think of anyone on either side of the aisle who has the moral authority, the vision, or the charisma to fit the bill.
Think of it. We have soaring inflation, a violent crime wave, and a border crisis (just to name three), and Texas turns its lonely eyes to… Beto O’Rourke?
Don’t count on that. But here’s the thing: What if this is as good as it gets? Beto should know better than to mess with Texas.