Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D., Texas) has seen his polls decline and his once adoring media coverage disappear since joining the 2020 presidential field, but he found a sympathetic face on Friday: MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace.
Wallace, a former Republican who's perhaps the network's most fanatic opponent of the Trump White House, has long been an admirer of O'Rourke, calling him an "all-star" last year and saying his upstart 2018 Texas Senate campaign was "one of the best stories." O'Rourke lost.
O'Rourke drew huge crowds and smashed fundraising records in his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). It hasn't translated on a national stage, where he's barely resonating with Democratic primary voters.
In a gushing interview on her daytime program Deadline: White House, Wallace criticized the "snarky" national press for dragging O'Rourke, asked him what the media could do better to cover him, and told him to grab one of MSNBC's reporters whenever he didn't "like what's covered."
"Just listening to you, it's clear that you have that thing that not all politicians have," she said. "You remember people's names, you remember where you were when you met them … You get very snarky national media coverage. Where's the disconnect?"
"I don't know," O'Rourke said, saying it's more powerful to connect with people in person and listing children who shared significant stories with him. "I don't see that so much in the talking heads, but that urgency and the demand we meet this moment with everything we've got and with every single one of us, that's what I'm finding in real day-to-day life across this country. That's where I spend my time, where I find my inspiration and what literally drives this campaign."
After a series of questions about news of the day and his campaign—including how he dealt with the candidacy of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has surged while O'Rourke has declined—Wallace asked O'Rourke to "play media critic."
"What can we do better as those of us trying to cover your candidacies from very far away from where the first votes will be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire? Don't hold back," she said, grinning.
"This is a good question," O'Rourke said. "It just is what it is."
"It doesn't have to be," Wallace said.
O'Rourke gave an example of having an "incredibly powerful town hall meeting" about important issues, followed by a reporter covering the event asking a horse race question.
Wallace told him to grab MSNBC reporter Garret Haake—who covered O'Rourke's Senate campaign—and "tell him what's on your mind" on the trail.
"If you don't like what's covered, you can change that," she said, still grinning.
In one of their previous interactions in 2018, O'Rourke told Haake "definitively" he would not run for president in 2020, even if he lost his Senate race.
Presenting 2020 candidates saying they're not running for president in 2020 pic.twitter.com/0mt2gUoYAO
— David Rutz (@DavidRutz) March 14, 2019