One of the more mystifying outcomes of the recent midterms, particularly as the nation reflects on the full life and multifarious accomplishments of George H.W. Bush, has been the elevation of Robert Francis O’Rourke to the top tier of potential presidential contenders. In response to a recent Morning Consult poll, registered Democrats ranked the losing Senate candidate among their top three preferences for the party’s 2020 nomination. They favored “Beto” over Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Sherrod Brown, et al. The only two potential candidates who ranked higher than the Texas congressman were septuagenarians Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Part of O’Rourke’s popularity is due, of course, to the amount of sycophantic media coverage he has received pursuant to his failed bid to unseat Senator Ted Cruz. The volume and tone of this coverage should not be contemplated during or immediately after eating. Politico, for example, just published a lengthy piece comparing Beto to Abraham Lincoln. I’m not kidding. And Politico is by no means the only publication to do so. In fact, O’Rourke has himself suggested a none-too-subtle connection between his own career and that of the Great Emancipator. Three weeks ago he published a solipsistic blog post about a morning run, which took him (Surprise!) to the Lincoln Memorial:
I walked over to the north wall and read Lincoln’s second inaugural address. My body warm, blood flowing through me, moving my legs as I read, the words so present in a way that I can’t describe or explain.… Picked up my run as I headed due East, now on the south side of the reflecting pool. Snow in my face, the flakes smaller, more biting now, maybe sleet. It had changed. My knee no longer hurt.… I wondered if the winds had changed too.
You can’t say you weren’t warned if you are now wiping vomit from your screen. It goes without saying that O’Rourke’s self-indulgent verbal slush fails to note that the inaugural address which so moved him would never have been delivered if Lincoln hadn’t defeated his northern Democratic opponent in 1864. The ability to recognize such irony requires the kind of intellectual subtlety with which Lincoln was so generously endowed and which neither nature nor education has provided Beto. Such subtlety has also been cruelly withheld from his media boosters as well as his star-struck supporters, who actually believe he has Lincoln’s greatness plus Barack Obama’s voter appeal.
Some Democrats remain immune to “Betomania,” however. Last week Rahm Emanuel warned that it was dumb to bet the 2020 presidential contest on a loser: “If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him. He should put his hat in and make his case. But he lost. You don’t promote a loser to the top of the party.” He is also being urged not to run for president by Democrats who see the need to show strength not merely at the top of the ticket but further down the ballot as well. Christopher Hooks writes in the Texas Observer that young Democrats like O’Rourke should work on rebuilding the party at the state level where it was damaged during the Obama era:
The nationalization of American politics and an overemphasis on the top of the ballot is a nationwide sickness, but it mostly afflicts the Democratic Party. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and then forgot about the rest of politics — the state legislatures, the governors’ mansions — and, as a result, they spent much of the next decade in political hell.… Democrats lost control of the state legislatures in charge of redistricting, which begat election wipeouts.
Hooks has a point, of course, but this kind of long-term thinking requires a politician to put the good of the party before his own ambitions. This characteristic was conspicuously absent from Barack Obama’s personality. And it isn’t exactly Beto’s most prominent attribute. Throughout his Senate campaign, he insisted that he wouldn’t be a candidate for president in 2020 regardless of the outcome. But a week ago he executed a vertigo-inducing pirouette. When asked if he was still adamant about not running for the presidency in two years he told a group of reporters, “Amy and I made a decision not to rule anything out.” This immediately produced a tsunami of op-eds to the following effect:
Beto O’Rourke should reach for the gold ring. He’ll never be hotter than he is now. He is only 46 years old, charismatic, articulate and is the darling of social media. He can clearly raise a ton of dough. O’Rourke raised more than $70 million for his Senate campaign in Texas against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.… O’Rourke should strike while the iron is hot. Shrinking violets do not become presidents.
If O’Rourke follows such stomach-turning advice, he will be doing President Trump a real favor. Beto will do fine in places like Austin and other college towns. But he’ll flop in the places that cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election — the big city precincts where the African-American vote is crucial to any candidate’s success. From 2012 to 2016, black voter turnout dropped dramatically and clearly demonstrated that no Democrat can win without generating a level of enthusiasm among minorities comparable to that which Barack Obama enjoyed. A white bread candidate like Beto, with a skateboard and a billionaire wife, will never cut it. The left’s lovesick yearning for Beto will not end well.