CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert quizzed former representative Beto O'Rourke (D., Texas) Wednesday night on why he would run for president when he couldn't win his 2018 U.S. Senate race.
O'Rourke is one of 24 Democratic candidates for president, and he's fallen out of the top tier despite a splashy start. O'Rourke set fundraising records during his campaign to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), falling short but becoming a national progressive celebrity. Buoyed by his new fame, he reversed a pledge made last year to not run for the White House.
"You didn't win that one," Colbert said hesitantly, as though it pained him to admit it. "What made you go, OK, didn't get Senate, let's go for the brass ring here and go for president of the United States. Very exciting campaign, but you did not win that one. Does this one seem easier to you?"
"Definitely not," O'Rourke said, smiling. "In Texas, we got to be part of something just extraordinarily special."
O'Rourke touted his race's help to lower-ticket candidates in Texas, and the crowd cheered when Colbert said O'Rourke only lost by 2.6 percent.
Colbert later wondered why O'Rourke wouldn't want to challenge Sen. Ted Cornyn (R., Texas), who is up for re-election in 2020. O'Rourke mentioned other Democrats seeking the nomination in the state, giving no indication he was going to drop his struggling White House bid.
"I just think given where we are, in this country, this moment of truth on everything that you could care about, will we be up to the challenge of confronting climate change before it's too late?" O'Rourke replied. "Will we be able to extend healthcare to every single American? Will we we ensure that our democracy … under attack by our very president, can we save it? I want to be in the most consequential position to make sure that I do everything I can to deliver for this country."
Colbert was one of numerous liberal figures in the media who adoringly covered O'Rourke's Senate campaign, touting his possible ability to knock off Cruz. At one point last year, he referred to O'Rourke as looking "smoking hot in an approachable sort of way" in a picture of him from his punk band days.
It wouldn't be out of the question for O'Rourke to win the Texas Democratic Senate nomination if he so desired next year, given his popularity with the state's Democrats.
A recent example on the other side of the aisle is Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), who had pledged to not seek a second term in the U.S. Senate as he sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. After he dropped out of the White House race, he reversed himself and ran for re-election to the Senate, clearing the GOP field and ultimately winning another term in Florida.