Tonight we get not one but two rallies with newsmaking potential and they’re being held half a mile apart. Trump’s event is his first major appearance on the trail since the midterms and thus his first chance to riff about the new crop of potential Democratic challengers. We already know his Elizabeth Warren material. Tonight we’re apt to hear some about Booker, Harris, Kirsten “Who?” Gillibrand, and Amy “No, really, who?” Klobuchar. The newsy part, though, has to do with the immigration compromise brewing in Congress. If a deal emerges, it won’t have anything like the $5.7 billion in wall money that Trump is asking for. Two billion for fencing is more probable. Will he try to sell that figure to his hardcore fans as an acceptable compromise or will he announce that it’s a nonstarter and get everyone braced for Shutdown 2.0? El Paso would be a strange location to choose if he’s about to make the case that he doesn’t need as much wall money from Congress as he initially thought. But then, El Paso was a strange choice from the beginning.
O’Rourke’s rally is buzzworthy too, not because he’s expected to announce his presidential run but because tonight may be a test of how much political mojo he retains after dropping off the political map for a few months. He told Oprah last week that he’d decide whether he’s in or out on 2020 by the end of February. If tonight’s rally is a dud, maybe that’ll point him to staying out. If instead Betomania! lives again, progressives might give him a second look after writing him off as a pretender to Bernie’s throne. It’s smart of him to try to counterprogram Trump tonight, I think, since that’ll increase the chances of Trump attacking him at his own rally. Anything the president says about him on TV is good publicity for a congressman looking to build a sense of national stature. And Trump may attack O’Rourke for his own strategic purposes: Why not do what you can to entice Beto into the race, knowing how he’ll complicate things for Sanders, Warren, and maybe Harris? Each man benefits from using the other as a foil here, which is why O’Rourke has been hyping this rally relentlessly on his Twitter feed over the past week.
Two live feeds are embedded below. There may be side-by-side coverage on cable news as well. If you doubt that O’Rourke is a shrewd retail politician, consider how cleverly he’s maneuvered himself into split-screen treatment with the president of the United States.