One way to answer that question is, “Yes, because that’s what presidential candidates do.” They look at what works for their opponents and they “borrow.” Hillary Clinton ran in 2008 on health-care reform with an individual mandate. Up popped Barack Obama to agree that, yes indeed, health-care reform would be a good idea — but without a mandate, his way of distinguishing himself slightly from her. (He changed his mind about the mandate later, of course.) Every Democrat in the field will have broadly similar policy proposals, starting with raising taxes on the rich. Democrats running in a particular “lane” will have very similar proposals. They’ll differ at the margins but not much, for the obvious reason that they’re reflecting what Democratic voters want. This is how primaries are. Aside from Trump, how much difference was there policy-wise among the gigantic Republican field in 2016?
But if Beto’s guilty of “borrowing” (and maybe he isn’t, as I haven’t checked extensively to see how long he’s been discussing these two issues), his borrowing is noteworthy in two ways. One: The chief knock on him is that he’s a lightweight on policy. He’s good on hopeychangey “uplift,” not so good on saying what his big ideas as president would be. Him “borrowing” would feel to his left-wing detractors less like a fellow wonk chiming in with agreement on a good idea than a pretender trying to pad out his presidential resume by stealing someone else’s work. Two: The two proposals he appears to have “borrowed” are fairly boutique propositions. They’re not big-picture “tax the rich” stuff every Democrat agrees on. They’re bold and unique.
And remember, O’Rourke’s only been in the race officially for a day. Two cases of “borrowing” within the first 24 hours(!) would be a lot.
Here’s the first instance. Take 60 seconds to watch Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg float his Court-packing proposal on a podcast two weeks ago:
Put five Republican justices and five Democratic justices on the Court, says Buttigieg, and let them choose five more, with unanimous agreement among them required to nominate someone. Voila, a 15-member Court that’s well-balanced. Now here’s Beto yesterday:
He said at a campaign stop in Iowa that he thinks it could be a good idea to have each party choose five justices and then to let those justices choose five more justices.
“What if there were five justices selected by Democrats, five justices selected by Republicans and those 10 then pick five more justices independent of those who picked the first 10,” O’Rourke said. “I think that’s an idea we should explore.”
I don’t think the idea originated with Buttigieg (the Free Beacon calls it “oft-cited”) but the clip above comes from the popular “Pod Save America” podcast run by three Obama alums. Many Democrats will have heard of it from Buttigieg via his “PSA” interview. How did Beto come by it? Did he listen to the interview too and pick it up as a way to pad out his stock answer on Court-packing? (True to form, he didn’t endorse the idea or rule it out. He merely offered it as something to “explore.”)
A second, more glaring example:
Beto O’Rourke is asked if he’s a socialist and says “I consider myself a capitalist,” but adds we have an “unfair, unjust and racist capitalist economy.” Suggests a “baby bond, an investment made in every single American dependent on your means” could help alleviate inequality
— Alexandra Jaffe (@ajjaffe) March 15, 2019
The “baby bond,” as Benjy Sarlin says, has become Cory Booker’s signature issue. I noted that myself here. That idea, to give each American newborn a sum of money and have it grow via compound interest while they mature, didn’t originate with Booker either but he’s the guy who’s made it a core part of his 2020 pitch. Now here’s Beto offering it on day one of his campaign.
Now that Kamala Harris has called for a national moratorium on the death penalty, how long before O’Rourke floats that as something to “explore” too?
I’m not going to fault him for borrowing effective rhetorical flourishes for his uplift shtick, but if you’re looking for pilfering on that score, there’s material there too:
Did Beto plagiarize Reagan?
Beto 2019: “We are now, more than ever, the last best hope of Earth.”
Reagan 1964: “…we’ll preserve for our children, this, the last best hope of man on earth…”https://t.co/ndne5B6HAs
— Craig Shirley (@CraigSBPA) March 15, 2019
Hmmm. In spite of it all, I continue to believe he shouldn’t be underestimated. One thing he, Obama, Trump, and Bernie all have in common is that, for whatever reason, they made their fans feel like something is happening! when they were out on the campaign trail. Each one had a knack for leading supporters to believe that they were part of a bona fide movement with the potential to change the country in big bold ways. That sounds silly in Beto’s case since he’s the thinnest of the four on splashy policy proposals but charisma is a fearsome beast. For all the laughs we have about his wild hand and arm gestures on the stump, they do a tidy job of communicating his enthusiasm and energy, which was infectious to Betomaniacs during the Senate race with Cruz. If you’re good at the uplift nonsense, you don’t have to be so good on policy. Be careful of him.