He means “loser” here in the literal, not figurative, sense. O’Rourke did in fact lose his Senate race. Since when do parties bet their national political fortunes on a candidate who lost his run for statewide office? Besides that one time, I mean.
Rahm’s argument is less interesting on the merits than it is as a notable deviation from ObamaWorld orthodoxy. Hopenchange veterans are very high on O’Rourke, per The Hill. Go figure that a lanky charismatic left-wing Senate candidate who’s good at selling gauzy idealism might capture their imaginations.
“That ability to make people feel invested in his campaign and his story does remind me of Obama ‘08,” said David Litt, who served as a speechwriter in the Obama White House. “You see the crowds and the enthusiasm, the kind of movement that isn’t about me but about us.”…
“The party hasn’t seen this kind of enthusiasm since Obama,” [another former Obama] aide said. “There isn’t one other potential candidate out there that has people buzzing. And that’s exactly why people supported Obama and why they’ll support Beto.”…
“I have never seen a Senate candidate — including Obama in 2004 — inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in this race,” [Dan] Pfeiffer said, adding that if O’Rourke were to run, “he would be one of the strongest candidates in the field.”
“Impressive young man who ran a terrific race,” said Obama himself of O’Rourke recently. As Rahm was (politely) dismissing the case for nominating him today, news was breaking elsewhere:
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who became a hero within the Democratic Party while losing a surprisingly tight race against Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, has already been invited to New Hampshire to speak with voters and meet experienced political operators in the key primary state, CNBC has learned.
Since O’Rourke’s loss earlier this month, Rob Friedlander, a senior advisor to the Texas Democrat’s campaign, has received calls from the New Hampshire Young Democrats requesting that O’Rourke come to the Granite State, according to people familiar with the matter. The goal would be to have O’Rourke tour parts of the state and interact with voters.
Emanuel’s obviously working an angle in pooh-poohing the party’s new heartthrob, but what is it? Presumably he’s already joined a rival candidate’s campaign or is planning to do so now that he’s retiring as mayor of Chicago. The most obvious possibility is with Obama’s VP, but it remains an open question whether Biden will run. Unless Rahm knows something we don’t, it’s weird that he’d be so dismissive of O’Rourke before Uncle Joe’s even in the race. Besides, Emanuel’s logic doesn’t work great as a case for Biden. Yeah, he won statewide many times in Delaware but his two presidential candidacies were dismal failures. If it’s important to nominate a winner, there’s at least as strong a case for nominating Bernie Sanders as there is for Biden. Bernie was at least competitive in the primary the last time he ran nationally.
If it’s not Biden, maybe Rahm’s gearing up for a Deval Patrick run. Patrick is another longtime Obama friend and ally. He won both of his races for governor of Massachusetts, although that’s no great shakes for a Democrat in a blue state. And Patrick’s been out of the campaign business for awhile. His last election was in 2010.
The weird thing about knocking O’Rourke for losing is how Rahm glosses over how surprisingly close the race with Cruz was. I remember watching data nerds on Twitter on election night complaining, and rightly so, about how silly it is to look exclusively at who won and who lost as the yardstick for how successful their campaign was. Doing that leaves you in the position of treating nailbiter victories and landslides as essentially equally impressive. The GOP won two huge races in Florida but the margins told the deeper story — it’s still every inch a purple state, although one whose rural right-wing voters are chronically underestimated in the polling. By the same token, O’Rourke’s Senate run was a failure but it was the most impressive failure by a Democrat in Texas in decades, with off-the-charts Democratic turnout making the race much tighter than even Cruz’s team of campaign professionals had expected. You could easily reframe Rahm’s point here about nominating winners: Can Democrats really afford to nominate a guy who, er, got within three points of the upset of the decade in the beating heart of red-state America? Running as a liberal the whole way?
Exit question: Didn’t we just elect someone president who’d never won an election before and who was pitted against a huge field of serial winners in Senate and gubernatorial elections in the primary?