Lots of hype on social media last night for the first 40 seconds of this clip, making it the first truly successful moment O’Rourke’s had as a presidential candidate. He flew home to El Paso after the shooting and spent the weekend doing interviews calling Trump and his fans at Fox News racists, but it was this offhand exchange that caught lefties’ attention. Partly that’s because it’s unguarded and captures his apparently authentic exasperation and partly it’s because he’s channeling left-wing opinion on this subject efficiently. They see Trump as a sort of high priest of white nationalism, at a minimum a man eager to encourage racial resentment for his own electoral gain. For the press to ask “What can Trump do to solve this problem?” after a white nationalist tries to mass-murder Mexicans is thus like asking what an arsonist can do for fire safety.
It didn’t occur to me at the time but this is actually an interesting suggestion about the fate of Beto 2020 going forward:
Beto O'Rourke is nuts if he doesn't announce tomorrow that he's going back to Texas to take on Cornyn.
He'd have the whole country behind him.
— Max Burns (@themaxburns) August 5, 2019
“The whole country” is laughably ridiculous but “the whole Democratic Party” may be accurate. O’Rourke’s polling at three percent in the RCP average of presidential primary polls today, has had two forgettable debates, and is known mainly as the guy whom Pete Buttigieg’s supporters used to favor. Lefties who adored him during his longshot run at Ted Cruz last year have had knives out for him since he jumped into the presidential race, fearing that he was a progressive poseur who’d gobble up critical votes that might otherwise go to Bernie or Elizabeth Warren. As it is, he’s been a nonfactor for months. From the start, his campaign has seemed to lack any purpose.
Until this weekend, when the shootings seemed to give him a purpose. The entire Democratic field took their shots at POTUS over the past 48 hours but Beto’s the guy who’s thrown and landed the most roundhouses at Trump and the GOP on racism, guns, and immigration. And he’s doing it a moment when Democrats from left to center are eager to see someone do that.
Probably he’s going to learn the wrong lesson from that and conclude that he should stay in the presidential race, newly invigorated by his good press of the last few days. If he were smart, though, he’d use the shooting as an escape hatch and declare that his home state needs him now more than ever or whatever. That would be a relatively elegant way to declare his presidential run a failure and try to get the party excited for a Betomania 2.0 Senate run in Texas, something that seemed unimaginable a few days ago but seems more plausible today. And given the political goings-on in Texas over the past two weeks, a Senate challenge to John Cornyn might not be the suicide mission it seems to be. These tweets from RCP political analyst Sean Trende caught my eye:
People really underestimate how many people live in rural/small town areas east of the hundredth meridian (so wi, oh get redder), and overestimate how many live west of it (tx, az get bluer)
— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) August 5, 2019
A lot of people involved in politics seem to think Texas is more ripe for the picking next year than we might assume. Trump is still favored, to be sure, but the state seems to be in “perfect storm” territory now: Given the anti-Trump drift in American suburbs, the fact that Trump has never polled particularly strongly in Texas, and the growing risk of a trade-war-driven recession, Texas could flip in a political climate that strongly favors Democrats. Republican pols in Texas seem worried about this too: News broke last night that GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant has decided to retire next year, making him the fourth GOP incumbent there in just the past few weeks to quit Congress. That is, even the Texas GOP seems to be bearish about the party’s chances of regaining a House majority anytime soon. And so, if you’re Beto, you look at that and you remember how close you got against Cruz and you naturally wonder, “Why not?” If Trump’s popularity dips another few points by next fall, why couldn’t O’Rourke knock off Cornyn amid a Democratic wave election?
We’ll see. He’s already qualified for the third Democratic debate so that’s another incentive for him to stick around the presidential race awhile longer. Just one thing: Is O’Rourke prepared to win a Democratic Senate primary? The field isn’t clear for him this year; M.J. Hegar, another rising Democratic star, is already in the race. Would Hegar back out in favor of Beto when he already had his shot against Cruz and lost? Here’s a bit more of him hammering his new message this weekend.