Hey, do you remember all of the excitement over Betomania? It was all the rage for at least a week or so back in January or early February. Karen Townsend pondered the question a little while back, asking whatever happened to all the Beto excitement. At the time, she proposed that O’Rourke might run into some trouble making the transition from flavor of the week to a “regular” candidate needing to flesh out his proposals and stand out from the rest of the field. I’m sure that’s part of what we’re seeing, but this week Jack Shafer, writing at Politico, has identified another factor that may explain the missing candidate mystery. Beto’s earned media almost entirely dried up after most of the press found a new savior to fall in love with… Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The Buttigieg boom has also benefited from the stumbles of our previous political shooting star, Beto O’Rourke. Was it only weeks ago that the press began swooning for O’Rourke like a drunken conventioneer, writing about him with the same frequency it does for Buttigieg today? The things that once seemed so appealing about O’Rourke to the press—the generalities, the platitudes, the offhanded charisma, the rolled-up sleeves—seem off-putting now. The clearest sign of the press corps’ O’Rourke infatuation was its routine reference to him by his first name in its stories—something it has moved on to doing with Buttigieg. Such shameful and transparent familiarity.
Having stripped the Kennedyesque Texan of his novelty, the press corps has dumped him for the Kennedyesque Hoosier like a speed-dater on the rebound from a Tinder relationship gone bad. Its transition to Buttigieg has been seamless, finding in him another candidate who speaks complete sentences, who likes the camera almost as much as it likes him, who subscribes to the usual Democratic articles of faith and scans like a lost episode of The West Wing.
A bit harsh, perhaps, but it certainly has the ring of truth to it. The town hall hosts at CNN and MSNBC have been shopping around for the ideal anti-Trump weapon and not doing much to hide those efforts. Beto initially filled the bill because of his high TV Q-score and his nearly successful effort to unseat one of the conservatives they despise the most… Ted Cruz. But the longer O’Rourke spent on his back roads journey to find himself (and America, I guess), the less grist he was delivering for the media mill. It was only a matter of time before his fans in the press moved on if a better opportunity presented itself.
Enter Mayor Pete. He came across as another ready for prime time face with an inspirational story. And unlike Beto, he was ready to give interviews to anyone, anywhere, any time, about anything. There were endless quotes available and heartwarming stories from his tenure as Mayor of South Bend. Sure, it would have been better if he’d been a minority or a woman, but at least he’s a married gay man, right? (That was another problem with Beto, by the way. Straight, white male. They’re just the worst.)
The amount of earned media showered on Buttigieg is rapidly eclipsing the love the press corps dumped on O’Rourke and it’s paying off for him in a big way. His fundraising numbers for the first quarter were impressive, if not record-setting. The latest national poll has him slipping ahead of Beto, though not by much (yet). If he manages to keep up with this pace and doesn’t shoot himself in the foot along the way he’ll be an actual contender.
But contender for what? The way things look right now, the eventual whittling down of the Democratic field will have to start some point later this year. (Probably after the Iowa straw poll.) There’s a good chance that we’re heading for a three-way race. It will likely come down to Joe Biden (assuming he gets in), Bernie Sanders and the person who is neither Sanders nor Biden. Beto is one of many hopefuls trying to land that third slot, and it will have to be somebody with more progressive bona fides than Creepy Uncle Joe, but not full-on, crazy pants socialist like Bernie.
Wouldn’t it be odd if the final three standing at the end were all white men? I’m not sure what that might say about the dawning of the age of intersectionality. But there’s still one threat hanging over Mayor Pete’s future. What if the press finds a new flavor of the week they like even better? Politics can be a cruel sport at times.