We may soon wake up to discover that the current Beto boomlet was just media hype—a fun, if temporary, summer dalliance that doesn’t wear so well after Labor Day. Or maybe not. Either way, Republicans should worry.
According to a recent NBC News/Marist poll, Ted Cruz is up just four points over Beto O’Rourke, among likely voters. In a world where Donald Trump can become president (!), is it so crazy to imagine Beto could be a U.S. Senator from Texas?
The smart money is still on Cruz, but in politics—even in the Lone Star State—sometimes all of the stars (re)align.
And then, what happens? If Beto pulls this off, he’ll be the Obama of the new age—instantly in the 2020 mix. Democrats would have a charismatic young leader who looks like a Kennedy, who seems to pass muster (from what I can tell) with both the left and the establishment, who puts Texas in play, and who passes the “beer test” in a way no other Democrat does.
Forget all the talk about how Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are old and in the way. Just as a front man in a band attracts 99% of the attention, it only takes one rock star to rebrand an entire political party.
Beto could be what Democrats feared Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio might have become: Something akin to an existential threat.
But even if Beto doesn’t win—even if Beto’s poll numbers evaporate after Labor Day—Republicans should worry that winter is coming.
Texas was one of a dozen states where Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign outperformed Obama’s 2012 margin. What is more, although Cruz is winning 42% of Latinos, Texas Senator John Cornyn won 48% of the Hispanic vote just four short years ago.
These trends are not healthy, and it occurs to me that Beto might accelerate these preexisting conditions.
Trump’s status as the dubious standard-bearer of the Republican Party only exacerbates matters. In reordering the GOP to appeal to voters in the formerly elusive states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the Republican Party may have unshackled its iron grip on states like Texas and Arizona.
Imagine what the Electoral College map looks like to Republicans if you begin a presidential election with California and New York colored “blue,” and then have to expend tremendous resources just to carry Texas, which you must capture to have a shot at winning the election.
What shall it profit a party if they gain the entire Rust Belt but lose the Southwest?
I have traveled all over Texas (and not just the big cities; I’ve been to Del Rio and Beaumont). In fact, I’ll be in Austin later this month. It always amazed me how the anger regarding illegal immigration didn’t seem to resonate there like it did in, say, California. I think this is what surprised and tripped up Rick Perry when he ran in 2012, and Mitt Romney decided to attack him for being soft on illegals. Sadly enough, Texas Republicans are now singing off the same choir sheet as the rest of the GOP. When Republicans warn that Hispanics are simply a natural constituency for Democrats, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Demographic shifts were always going to pose a challenge for the Republican Party. Some day. However, in the Trump era, Republicans are also bleeding college-educated whites—especially college-educated women. It strikes me that this is yet another reason why Beto’s appeal has broad potential.
While the GOP looks increasingly like characters in the Star Wars cantina scene, Beto at least seems likable and normal. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump—the obnoxious debate club nerd and the barstool bully—have their fans, too. But the Republican Party used to boast college-educated white suburbanites, and their discomfort with the current face of the party is yet another aspect of the reordering occurring during the Trump era.
Call us the conservative “Beto males” if you like, but as a Gen-X, college-educated white dad living in Alexandria, Virginia, I have to say that Beto—at least stylistically and culturally—feels like he’s part of our tribe, too (working-class whites and intersectional minorities haven’t cornered the market on identity politics). Politics aside, he’s more relatable (at least, in my mind) than Cruz. I’d rather have a beer with Beto—and I suspect most of my friends would, too. And I’m not sure that politics in the 21st century is much more complicated than that.