Let me rephrase. This isn’t O’Rourke’s first presidential ad; he hasn’t announced yet. This is the first presidential ad for O’Rourke. It’s the handiwork of Draft Beto, the group that’s trying to entice him into the race by building a groundswell of enthusiasm among Democratic voters. The louder the buzz gets, the thinking goes, the more encouraged he’ll be to dive in.
Is this a buzzworthy ad?
Let me rephrase that too. Is this an ad that’s apt to build *good* buzz?
If I were trying to pique Dem curiosity about O’Rourke in 90 seconds, I would have gone one of two routes. One: Take the footage of his defense of NFL players who knelt during the anthem, which went viral during his Senate campaign, and repackage that somehow. Maybe intercut it with shots of the faces of various Beto supporters to highlight the diversity of his coalition. No one’s going to hand the nomination to him due to one stirring two-minute speech, but that’s not the point. The point is to set the atmosphere for the campaign to come and to introduce him to liberals who’ve heard about him but maybe haven’t seen him in action yet. Give them a taste that makes the point that he’s a guy who’ll stand up for their principles even when the wider culture disapproves.
Two: Do a montage of news footage from the Senate campaign featuring various reporters marveling at O’Rourke’s decision to run to the left — in Texas of all places, against Ted Cruz — despite the conventional wisdom that said he should try to grab the center. Intercut that with a few choice soundbites of him talking up gun control, taxing the rich, yadda yadda. The message, again, is that Beto doesn’t compromise on his leftism. You can trust him not to go soft under pressure from the right because he’s already proved in the capital of red-state America that he won’t do it. That won’t win over the Bernie fans but it’ll intrigue casual voters and might quiet down the lefties who keep grumbling that he’s not progressive enough. For awhile.
Instead they barfed up this clip, which is about nothing grander than Beto’s alleged rock-star charisma, right down to the choice of soundtrack. It’s just one long blather about “inspiration” and cool. He air-drums! He skateboards! It’s right on the border between being an earnest ad and a light goof on the thinness of O’Rourke’s appeal. This might have worked in 2008 but the left in 2019 seems to be looking for something more substantive. Beto can’t be Obama 2.0, argues Warren Henry today at the Federalist:
First, the idea that candidate Obama might become the first black president drove minority and youth turnout. In his Senate campaign, Beto failed to drive minority turnout like Stacey Abrams did in her campaign for governor in Georgia. In a presidential primary bid, O’Rourke would likely face minority rivals such as Sens. Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, who will have that argument in their pockets. And the youth vote in 2018 continued to disappoint, even relative to 2016.
Second, Democrats might not be in the market for a blank screen in 2020. Left-wing columnists like David Sirota and Elizabeth Bruenig are already making the case that O’Rourke would be a rerun of the Obama campaign, and that this would be bad. The Bernie Sanders faction of the party would press him to make more leftist commitments (then would probably denounce him as an opportunist if he did).
Third, were O’Rourke to become the Democratic nominee, a scenario that should not be discounted at this stage, he would presumably face President Trump, who would not be a blank screen. Trump likely would be as effective in filling in that blank screen as Cruz was at defining O’Rourke during his Senate campaign.
Just this week liberal pundits have been bickering over whether Obama’s presidency was truly a success or failure based on his policy accomplishments. To the committed left, glamorous-yet-gassy “inspiration” just won’t hack it in a nominee this time, especially when there are true-blue progressives in the field as an alternative instead of Hillary Clinton. And especially when that gassy-glamorous candidate seems to resort to vacuous cringey platitudes about having a “debate” every time he’s asked to take a position on a policy that’s dividing Democrats.
Maybe there are enough casual Democratic voters around sufficiently captivated by his charm that the left won’t matter. (Seems possible!) But I think there’s no worse than a 20 percent chance right now that he gets in, turns out to be 10 parts sizzle to one part steak, and ends up a laughingstock of both the left and right. He’s already headed in that direction after the “let’s have a debate” interview with WaPo and last night’s deeply unfortunate fake “road trip” diary entry. Wouldn’t take a lot of gaffes on the trail for Berniebros to turn him into a relentless punchline.
Speaking of which, enjoy Andrew Stiles’s tribute to Beto’s journal in lieu of an exit question.