Just how seriously has the GOP taken Robert “Beto” O’Rourke’s potential presidential bid? Seriously enough to do some major oppo-research digging, Amie Parnes reports for The Hill. They’re looking for any dirt they can find, and think that a few votes might reveal O’Rourke to be — gasp — more conservative than he seems.
Is that a … bad thing?
GOP organizations and political action committees have spent recent weeks delving into multiple areas of O’Rourke’s life, from his voting record to a drunken driving arrest in 1998.
Super PAC America Rising, for example, is zeroing in on O’Rourke’s votes during his six years in Congress, which they see as more conservative compared to those of other potential candidates, according to sources familiar with the research.
O’Rourke’s family money and his family’s influence on his past campaigns are also being studied, as are his ties to fossil fuel interests important in Texas.
An official at the Republican National Committee said they’ve already compiled a “hefty” book on O’Rourke as part of their extensive 2020 opposition research “and will continue to add to it.”
In a post-Kavanaugh world, it’s probably useless to complain about dirt-digging efforts being seen as a guide as to the seriousness of a candidacy. Or, for that matter, its impact on attracting talent to public service. Anyone with a reasonable level of respect for public service balanced with a rational expectation of fairness won’t bother, which leaves us with either Boy/Girl Scouts and those whose appetite for power overcome any fear of public humiliation. And there aren’t a lot of Boy or Girl Scouts out there anymore.
In this case, it’s still a rather mild form. Parnes’ description suggests that the GOP is more interested in O’Rourke’s public life rather than private life, which is fair game. The direction of their efforts is a bit amusing, however. Usually, the opposition party wants to paint a candidate in extremist terms in order to marginalize them with independents and loosely affiliated voters, in large part by taking votes and comments out of context. The fact that they want to make O’Rourke look bad by painting him as more Republican than Democrat — conservative votes, fossil-fuel investment — gives a good indication that they feel Democrats will do that work for them by nominating a radical progressive. Why not facilitate that by stripping some luster off of Beto by making him look reasonable?
Of course, there’s another level of irony here too. Ted Cruz’ campaign already dug up an oppo-research gem last year with O’Rourke’s DUI with apparent hit-and-run circumstances. At one time, that would have been enough to keep anyone from serious consideration for high public office, and prompted an end to further digging. These days, however, it’s just another peccadillo in an ocean of ennui over character. It’s worse to be a moderate, apparently, than to drive drunk and abscond.