I don’t understand this as a matter of basic political strategy, but then I haven’t understood Beto’s strategy from day one. When he entered the race (before he entered, in fact) he was savaged by the left as a fake progressive. They feared that Betomania would spread from Texas to the national Democratic electorate and usurp their dreams of a Bernie Sanders presidency, so they unloaded on him. That should have been a clue to him that he would never succeed in winning them over, in which case he’d be better off positioning himself as a center-left candidate aiming for moderates. If you’re a liberal who’s freaked out by Sanders/Warren radicalism but also think Biden’s 10 years past his sell-by date, meet Beto! He’s young, he’s liberal, but he’s also from Texas and understands right-wing concerns. He’s not crazy! He can win!
But he didn’t do that. He ran as an ultra-woke progressive anyway. And at last check in Iowa he’s polling below one percent. I don’t get his thinking, unless my pal Karl is right: Because Beto ran as an outspoken lefty in Texas last year and nearly pulled off the upset of the decade, he “learned” that you can’t go wrong being your outspoken left-wing self. That was … not the right lesson for a national primary in which the left side of the field is crowded with an avowed socialist and several socialist-adjacents, all of whom are better known than O’Rourke. But that’s the lesson he absorbed and, by gum, he’s sticking with it. All the way to zero percent in the polls.
Think of the clip below as a counterpart to Biden adamantly refusing to call Trump a white supremacist in Iowa a few days ago despite reporters pleading with him to do so. Grandpa Joe is thinking of his bottom line: If you tell white voters in the Rust Belt that they voted for a racist three years ago you’re sort of calling them racists too, and rule one of politics is never to insult the people whose voters you’re after. You would think Democratic candidates this year would be especially sensitive to that given Hillary’s “deplorables” fiasco in 2016 and Trump’s shocking upset victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Yet here’s Beto going further than Clinton did. She claimed that roughly half of Trump’s voters might be fairly characterized as “deplorable.” He’s claiming that all Trump voters are complicit, even if they’re sticking with Trump as “the devil they know” because they’re spooked by the Democrats’ full-spectrum wingnuttery on health care, immigration, student-loan forgiveness, and on and on.
How does he walk this back next summer if, against all odds, he ends up as the nominee? How does he walk it back if he ends up bailing out of the presidential race in a few months and resorts to running for Senate again in Texas, a red state chock full of swing voters who are inclined to vote for Trump?
Maybe he’s playing a long game. He knows he won’t be the nominee and he also knows he’s unlikely to win a Senate race against John Cornyn (and that his political career would likely be over after two consecutive Senate losses). So he’s going to use his platform this year to be the “right side of history” voice in the field who savages Trump and Trump’s fans on moral grounds, hoping to make an impression in lefty minds about his moral clarity. Then, five or 10 years from now, when the demographics are more favorable to him in Texas and nationally, he’ll run again. Remember when I was the conscience of our party in speaking out against Trump? he’ll say to Democrats. They’ll remember. That’s the best I can do to explain what he’s up to right now in strategic terms — he needs to get *something* out of this doomed presidential campaign, and if he can make a mark on the liberal imagination, he has a future in the party potentially. If nothing else, these passionate monologues about Trump as a moral nightmare are guaranteed to land him a big speaking slot at next year’s convention. That’s his springboard to 2024.
.@jaketapper: “Do you think it’s racist to vote for President Trump in 2020?”
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) August 11, 2019