I will happily promote any internecine feud between liberals, and will even more happily promote anyone dumping on Avenatti.
But a feud pitting his cultish fans against the cult of the Democrats’ newest political heartthrob? Betomaniacs versus Ave-nuttys? I will pay you for the privilege.
The only downside here is that, because O’Rourke is taking the high road, he can’t utter those four magical words that most Avenatti critics eventually end up saying: “Pay your bills, dipsh*t.”
Should his opponent join him in the mud, which is the approach that the lawyer Michael Avenatti not only recommends but models? Is it even possible to avoid such a descent? Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton apparently think not, to judge by recent public comments of theirs (“When they go low, we kick ’em,” Holder said)…
I happened to reconnect with O’Rourke recently in Fort Worth, Tex., and I asked him about the optimal tone for a Democrat at this juncture and about Avenatti’s and Holder’s repudiations of Michelle Obama’s “they go low, we go high” credo.
“Avenatti does not represent us,” O’Rourke told me, meaning most Democrats. “Eric Holder — what he said — that’s not where we’re at.” He added that among American voters, “there is a real concern about civility — not for the sake of manners but for the sake of the country working.”
Avenatti and Holder are where Democrats are at but it’s shrewd of O’Rourke to keep his distance. He’s done a nifty job leveraging an all-but-doomed run for Senate in Texas into a case that he’s the true son and heir of Hopenchange in 2020. The Kennedy comparisons he always draws are fair enough but the Kennedys are a shadow of what they used to be in terms of their influence over the Democratic Party. Not so with Obama, the other pol to whom he’s frequently likened. Peter Hamby wrote about that a few months ago, noticing the neat trick O and Bet-O both managed to pull off. Although each is an unabashed liberal, each managed to obscure ideology to some degree beneath an image of quasi-nonpartisan sunniness and optimism. That’s why each attracted such devoted followers. They were primarily selling a rosy kumbaya outlook on America, one that just happened to come bundled with mostly dogmatic left-wing policies.
“Democrats in Texas have been losing statewide elections for Senate for 30 years,” he said. “So you can keep doing the same things, talk to the same consultants, run the same polls, focus-group drive the message. Or you can run like you’ve got nothing to lose. That’s what my wife, Amy, and I decided at the outset. What do we have to lose? Let’s do this the right way, the way that feels good to us. We don’t have a pollster. Let’s talk about the things that are important to us, regardless of how they poll. Let’s not even know how they poll.”…
“I would like Texas to be the example, to be the bridge over the small stuff, the partisanship, the bickering, the pettiness, the meanness, the name-calling, the bigotry, the racism, the hatred, the anxiety, and the paranoia that dominates so much of the national conversation today,” he implored them, catching his breath. “I would love for us to be the big, bold, confident, ambitious, big-hearted, aspirational answer to all that small, weak crap that dominates the national news every single night that has kept us from who we are supposed to be as a country.”
He’s going to lose next week and Avenatti will likely use the occasion to say, politely, that O’Rourke was too “soft” in his campaign against Cruz. He has no choice but to say that; his brand is “fight fight fight” so all Democratic failures must be attributed to an unwillingness to do so. But that’s inane in O’Rourke’s case. Going scorched-earth in Texas would have pissed off the state’s Republican majority and spoiled that kumbaya vibe at his own rallies. O’Rourke is well aware of it too, going so far as to retract his use of the term “Lyin’ Ted” about Cruz when it slipped out a few weeks ago. His strategy has been to play off Cruz’s own cynical image by drawing the sharpest contrast he could. Cruz is the ultimate calculating politician, a man who’ll say what he needs to in order to win. O’Rourke countered that by running as an idealist, who’d stick to the high road and smile while doing it. He became a fundraising juggernaut as a result. He’ll lose but he was always going to lose, and he might make the outcome tight enough that he’ll walk away having done more to advance his national profile than any other Democrat this year. Imagine that. Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams might win the governor’s seats in Florida and Georgia and yet Beto may have a larger national base than either as the 2020 primary season begins.
And if he does run, the dynamic between him and Avenatti will be fascinating to watch. Avenatti is planning to make the usual dreary Washington establishmentarians his foil. He’s the fightin’ outsider, just like Trump. O’Rourke, though, may be running with an eye to making Avenatti his own foil, which would be shrewd. There’s nothing that sets Beto apart from Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, etc, on policy; in a pure policy primary he’d be lost in the pack. But if he can make the primaries a referendum on youthful optimism and a fresh start for a cuddlier America, a la Obama 2008, then he’s the standout. And who’s most likely to provide him with that contrast? Why, the nasty lawyer who keeps wanting to brawl with people.
Exit question: Is Beto just mad about that fundraising ploy Avenatti used him for a few weeks ago?