Biden's early 2020 fear: Betomania

This would explain why Team Joe is allegedly already viewing O’Rourke as potential VP material. They’re afraid that if they don’t coopt him early he might blow up their whole campaign.

“I love Joe, but the party needs someone younger,” one former Obama senior administration official said. “We need someone with new ideas.”…

“People are just drawn to the guy,” [a] former Biden aide said. “He’s dynamic and if I weren’t such a Biden person I’d totally get behind Beto. He’s exciting.”…

Regarding staffing, the former aide said that “people would run to [O’Rourke] if he announced, including some who worked for Obama.”

“I think Biden is doing well because people know him, but they have to be scared by this aspirational guy no one saw coming,” said one former Obama White House official. “It has to be pretty daunting. It’s similar to what happened in 2008, when no one saw the other guy with the initials B.O. coming.”

There are many former Obama staffers and donors out there in blue America but the number is finite, and the top-tier talent is limited just as it is in any industry. If Beto runs as Obama 2.0, how do the Hopenchange veterans get divvied up between him and Uncle Joe? The answer to that question matters not just to personnel but to Biden’s press early on, as the media will have a field day if O’Rourke swoops in and snaps up A-list Obama talent that O’s VP is coveting. The dramatic arc is irresistible: Biden was elbowed aside by Obama in 2008, then elbowed aside again with Obama’s help in 2016. Now, finally a frontrunner at age 76, he risks being elbowed aside by another Obama-esque up-and-comer who’s light on policy but very, very heavy on inspiration. “Biden a bridesmaid again” is a bad storyline for Uncle Joe in the early going.

I’m not yet sold on the idea that O’Rourke would hurt Biden more than help him, though. The fascinating thing about Betomania! descending on the national presidential primary is that there are like five or six different “lanes” in the Democratic 2020 field and each one seems to think that O’Rourke might present special danger to them. Biden is in the neoliberal lane, the lane for somewhat more centrist Democrats who miss Hopenchange — and now, out of the blue, here comes a guy no one had ever heard of six months ago to lunge at the Hopenchange mantle. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are in the economic progressive lane — but Beto almost knocked off Ted Cruz in Texas, of all places, by running as an uncompromising progressive. Leftist pundits have spent the six weeks since Election Day scrambling to tamp down the enthusiasm for him by reminding readers that his actual policy record is shakier than Sanders’s is. They don’t want Democratic voters falling in love when more reliable progressives are on the ballot. But will it matter? Meanwhile, a survey of minority women dropped yesterday showing that O’Rourke can conceivably compete for the cultural progressive vote too, as he finished in the top three on more hypothetical ballots than every candidate except Kamala Harris. He’s a threat to her potentially as well, the guy who’s sufficiently vocal about racial justice that he can challenge her among black voters.

Question, though: Is all of that a sign of O’Rourke’s strength, an Obama-esque ability to make different ideological stripes believe that he’s one of them, or is it a sign of the weakness of the Democratic field? How impressive can the Democratic crop really be, wonders Philip Klein, if a guy whose biggest achievement was losing a Senate race can be an instant top-tier candidate in a matter of a few months? And if he was nominated, would he be Obama 2.0 in the general election — or McGovern 2.0? The latter, says Josh Kraushaar:

If Democrats nominate a candidate like O’Rourke eager to lean in on the polarizing culture wars, it would be the greatest gift Trump could receive. A Democratic bet on Beto would be a rebuke of the party’s carefully crafted and successful congressional strategy of 2018, with Democratic leaders advising their candidates to focus on bread-and-butter economic issues over polarizing cultural fights. O’Rourke’s viral moment defending the NFL players taking a knee during the anthem was a hit with his core supporters, but was critical fodder in motivating a disengaged Republican base. (The issue isn’t a hit with swing voters, either: 54 percent viewed such kneeling during the anthem as inappropriate in an August 2018 NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.)…

There was a good reason why low-key pragmatists won crucial governor races in Wisconsin and Michigan, while celebrity candidates aligned with the progressive movement fell short. O’Rourke’s own Senate campaign came impressively close in red-state Texas, but he was running against an awfully unpopular senator. Even if advocates believe the Beto model would energize progressives and young voters while still winning the suburbs comfortably, there remains a high risk of a backlash from older Americans. Relying on that backlash is how Republicans were able to narrowly hold the governorships in Florida and Georgia. It’s how Trump won the presidency in the first place.

O’Rourke is the “sort of” option for Democrats. Economically progressive? Sure, sort of. He’s of the left, but not a socialist. Culturally progressive? Yeah, sort of. He’ll say the right thing from a liberal standpoint on Colin Kaepernick but how deep his commitment runs in terms of policy is an open question. Democratic opinion on 2020 varies as to whether they should emphasize economic populism to win back Trump’s working-class white voters or go full culture-warrior on racial and gender issues to try to mobilize Obama’s coalition and outvote the MAGAs. But if they choose O’Rourke, they wouldn’t really be emphasizing either. They’d be choosing someone who can do a bit of both, but not to the satisfaction of leftists who are highly invested in either. How does that turn out on Election Day 2020?

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022