Ryan J. Rusak, Tribune News Service
Things have gotten abysmal for Beto O’Rourke. Not even a year ago, he came closer to winning a statewide office than any Texas Democrat in two decades. He even won Tarrant County, a rare feat. And although he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, his arrow seemed to point only up. O’Rourke’s entry to the presidential race was greeted with a fawning Vanity Fair cover.
Now it appears that was his peak. A recent poll in New Hampshire had him at 0.0%. That is neither a typo nor an “Animal House” joke.
There’s increasing talk that O’Rourke should drop out and run for Senate again, this time against John Cornyn.
His fundraising, which blew away records in 2018, now lags way behind the leading Democratic contenders.
Increasingly, the only way he makes headlines is through desperate attempts to grab onto the identity politics train that is bolting through the Democratic nominating process, like telling a group of immigrants and refugees how racist the country they fought to come to is.
And then there was O’Rourke’s revelation that ancestors of both him and his wife appear to have owned slaves. His handling of it cued an emotion I did not expect: pity.
I was one of the few political journalists who maintained much skepticism about O’Rourke during his Senate run, but rarely have we seen a candidate fall so far so fast.
The El Paso congressman did seem different, more authentic and approachable than many candidates. He portrayed himself as an optimistic candidate who can bridge divides. But instead of trying to pitch that Obama-esque message to his party nationally, he’s spent much of his presidential campaign apologizing for things like the private matter of how he and his wife divide parenting duties.
The slavery revelation could have been an opportunity to stand up against the mad idea that anyone’s fitness for public office should be defined whatsoever by what their ancestors did five generations ago.
Instead, O’Rourke took responsibility for something that happened more than a century before his birth, and to make up for it, he promised trillions of dollars of government spending — which you and I would pay for, whether our ancestors did what his did or not.
O’Rourke’s problem is that in this Democratic field, no candidate can claim ground far enough on the left to avoid being leapfrogged. Witness how a fellow Texan, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, launched a surprise attack on the topic of immigration. There’s six months until the first votes are cast, and candidates have come back from worse to win their parties’ nominations. Consider John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Both were considered top-tier candidates, plunged to the depths of irrelevance and then climbed back.
O’Rourke’s appeal was supposedly that he could win votes other Democrats couldn’t. That certainly appeared to be true in Texas.
But now, the Texas results increasingly look like they were driven more by other factors, such as a rising Democratic presence in the state, anger at President Donald Trump and dislike for Cruz. One of the biggest was near-constant hype from national media outlets desperate to see Texas turn blue.
Talk of an O’Rourke presidential run began before anyone stopped to evaluate what really happened in Texas, and now, his deficiencies as a candidate are clear.
Before long, it’ll be widely understood that O’Rourke was perhaps the least important factor in that Senate race.
The way things are going, that could soon be true of the presidential contest, too.
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