Every election you’ll hear it said of a candidate that his support is a mile wide and an inch deep. That may be true of Biden this year: He leads right now on the strength of name recognition, but how much of that support is soft and willing to migrate after voters get a good look at him is anyone’s guess. It’s not like he’s been formidable in his previous runs for president.
With Beto, the opposite might be true. Any fan base willing to deliver $6 million on day one is obviously deep, maybe a mile deep.
But what if it’s only an inch wide?
O’Rourke’s share of support at this early stage in the race has hardly moved outside the margin of error of 1 percentage point since Morning Consult began tracking Democratic voters’ views in January. Eight percent of likely primary voters called him their first choice at the time and 9 percent called him their second choice, which is identical to the latest poll…
Harris, who began her campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saw a bump of 5 percentage points as Democrats’ first-choice pick in Morning Consult tracking (she launched her campaign on the first day of the poll, on Jan. 21), though that boost lacked staying power. And Sanders, who started his campaign Feb. 19, the second day of that week’s poll, saw a 6-point jump to 27 percent, where he’s stayed in the weeks since.
O’Rourke gained just a single point since Morning Consult’s last survey, although this new poll was already in the field when he announced. More than 40 percent of the responses collected by MC for this one came before the news broke that he was getting in. The poll was finished, in fact, before O’Rourke announced his $6 million first-day take, which may have led some casual Democratic voters this week to sit up and take notice. It’s possible that a delayed bounce is coming, especially with cable news heavily covering his standing-on-countertops shtick in Iowa.
But let’s say MC is right and there is no bounce. Does the media have something to do with that? Tim Miller noticed something I’ve noticed too, that the press’s early coverage of O’Rourke has been conspicuously skeptical, particularly relative to last year. Right, yeah, there was the gauzy Vanity Fair cover and there’s still occasional chirping about how Kennedyesque he is, but many stories about him have focused on him apologizing for joking about his wife raising their kids, his “white privilege,” and so on. Miller smells an agenda:
As Jonathan Chait observed, if America was going to get its first socialist president, the Bernie bros were going to have to crush Beto.
The aspirational socialists and the intersectional liberals suddenly found themselves in league against a common enemy: a white male capitalist who once took a road-trip with a . . . Republican. So when Beto formally announced his campaign last week, what he may not have realized is that he was firing the first presidential shot in the left’s internecine Woke Wars. And in this battle he is on the wrong side of some of the very people who were his base in 2018: center-left journalists and power twitter users.
Not only have these social media influencers cooled to Betomania 2.0, but many turned out to be actively hostile, treating him more along the line of how they handle conservatives.
I don’t think it’s entirely ideological. The media loves to watch bubbles burst and no one’s bubble was bigger entering the race than Beto’s. In fairness, who doesn’t enjoy a good “Overhyped Golden Boy Falls On His Face” storyline? Add his demographic sins to that plus the fact that he really does seem comically noncommittal on many policies and it’s inevitable that they’d try to take him down a few pegs early.
Digest this soliloquy he uncorked a few days ago when asked about his vision for America: “Going everywhere, writing nobody off, taking no one for granted, could care less . . . what party you belong to, to whom you pray or whether you pray at all, who you love, how many generations you’ve been here, whether you just got here yesterday… We’re going to define ourselves by our aspirations, our ambitions and the ability to bring this country together.” WaPo sniffed afterward that “He never got to articulating a clear vision for America,” summarizing his first few days on the trail as asking voters “to shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be.” Obama famously described himself in 2008 as a “blank screen” onto which voters of all stripes could project their hopes, but O’Rourke’s at a level even more basic than that, aspiring to be a blank screen.
Won’t you help him achieve his ambition of someday becoming an empty vessel, America?
Here he is getting politely hassled on the trail today about his emphasis on “platitudes and nice stories.” That’ll be a recurring theme among fans of other candidates who attend his townhalls and speak up to pose questions, I imagine.
"When are we going to get an actual policy from you, instead of just platitudes and nice stories?" Beto O'Rourke is asked.
O'Rourke discusses health care, education, criminal justice reform: "I'm trying to describe not just the goal…but the path that we will take to get there" pic.twitter.com/Ic6tZTex2r
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) March 19, 2019