Beto O'Rourke did all the right things to prepare for a successful presidential campaign. He married a real-estate heiress. He saved money by refusing to give to charity. He served in Congress. He ran for Senate against a loathed Republican incumbent. He was lauded in the press, and cheered on by celebrities. He played guitar with Willie Nelson. He accepted defeat, unlike Stacey Abrams. He soul searched. He blogged about his interactions with real Americans. He live-streamed his dental exam. He was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair. With a dog. Wearing jeans.
In the words of perhaps the most successful political leader in American history: "What the hell happened?"
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Beto's campaign has sputtered violently since getting off the ground in March. His announcement was met with considerable excitement in some liberal circles. He was even described as a "White Obama." Since then, Beto's poll numbers have been approaching "statistically insignificant" territory. He's been overtaken by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, aka the "Gay Obama," and is struggling to stand out in a Democratic field teeming with generic white males.
Speaking of which, Beto is constantly fending off questions about his "white privilege." He can't stop apologizing. He insulted Stacey Abrams, the self-proclaimed governor of Georgia, by suggesting her as a potential running mate. In an effort to "reboot" his campaign, and dispel notions that his candidacy is little more than a "vanity project," he livestreamed his haircut. He's circling the drain.
One almost feels bad for Beto. Given the near universal adulation he received from the liberal establishment in 2018, when he was running against Ted Cruz, it's hard to blame him for feeling confident enough to run for president, for believing that people liked him, and didn't just hate Ted Cruz. The sorry state of Beto's presidential campaign, and the media's indifferent and occasionally hostile attitude toward his candidacy, is all the more striking when you consider the glowing press coverage he received during his failed Senate campaign.
Even before he was the White Obama, Beto was a 21st century Kennedy. Before he told Vanity Fair he was "born to be in it," the magazine was introducing us to "the Kennedyesque Democrat Trying to Beat Ted Cruz." Town & Country described Beto as a "Kennedyesque longshot" who "just might have a chance at unseating Ted Cruz." (He didn't.) But he did have "an inspiring message for an extraordinarily divided electorate." Beto's charisma was "raw" (Politico) "effortless" (Texas Observer) and "undeniable" (Yahoo). His "toothy" grin and "lanky" physique were frequently cited in the myriad fawning profiles published during the 2018 cycle.
Rolling Stone puffed him up as "Ted Cruz's Punk-Rock Problem." In Esquire, he was "The Man Democrats Are Hoping Is The Next Obama"—an "articulate" and "charming" candidate who just might "save the world from Trump." Yahoo News: "Beto O’Rourke, on a ‘suicide mission’ against Ted Cruz, is having the time of his life—and might even come out of it alive." GQ heralded " the summer of Beto—a giddy campaign season during which descriptive clichés like ‘Kennedy-esque' and ‘punk-rock Democrat' have abounded."
This is media atmosphere into which Beto presumably thought he would be launching his national campaign. He was in for a rude awakening. Perhaps it's because even a cardboard cutout of Al Gore would appear "charismatic" next to Ted Cruz, or perhaps it's because the media is less inclined to heap praise on candidates who aren't running against Republicans. The brutal headlines trickled in slowly at first, but have turned into a deluge of late.
The Daily Beast: "The Unbearable Male Privilege of Beto O'Rourke" (March 15)
New York Times: "In Beto O’Rourke’s Announcement, His Wife’s Silence Stands Out" (March 15)
Western Journal: "Robert ‘Beto' O’Rourke apologized Friday night for writings the former Texas representative made as a teenager describing fantasies about running over children with a vehicle." (March 16)
WTVR: "Beto O'Rourke apologizes for wife jokes" (March 17)
Dallas Morning News: "Beto O'Rourke defends meager donations to charity, saying he sacrifices through public service" (April 18)
BuzzFeed: "Almost Two Months In, Beto 2020 Is Still In Flux. Staffers Know They’re Behind." (April 30)
Politico: "Beto O’Rourke has hired a digital director for his presidential campaign as the former congressman attempts to find his footing and organize a viable campaign in a growing field of Democrats." (May 7)
Dallas Morning News: "Unfazed by sinking poll numbers, Beto O'Rourke keeps plugging away on presidential bid" (May 10)
Politico: "Beto's Long History of Failing Upward" (May 10)
CNN: "Beto O'Rourke is polling worse than ever" (May 11)
Associated Press: "Beto O’Rourke plans ‘reintroduction’ as 2020 buzz fizzles (May 11)
What a difference a year makes. The "White Obama" is looking more and more like a "White Rubio." Beto energized the coastal elite in 2018 by giving them hope: Ted Cruz could be defeated. Texas could turn blue. It didn't pan out, but Beto was still applauded for the "vitality" he brought to the race. Turns out Beto wasn't a unique talent. With so many viable alternatives running in the Democratic primary, including a few who aren't straight white men, the liberal establishment is losing interest. At this point, Beto will be lucky to make it to New Hampshire.