NBC: On second thought, Beto is a "political-cultural phenomenon"

Out: Robert O’Rourke will lead Democrats to electoral success in Texas! In: Beto’s “authentically cool” value “transcends politics“! The media mythologizing of the three-term Congressman in over his head in a Texas Senate race continues apace today with this NBC hagiography masquerading as news. So what exactly does O’Rourke do that isn’t about elections and politics? Er

Betomania, as the phenomenon has been dubbed, is sweeping the nation — or at least its more liberal enclaves — leading fans to ascribe over-sized ambitions onto the underdog Texas congressman, even though polls and prognosticators suggest he may be just weeks away from losing to a man who has made plenty of enemies in both parties.

“BETO FOR PRESIDENT,” the comedian Billy Eichner ‏tweeted to his more than 2 million followers, and he’s hardly alone.

O’Rourke, a former punk rocker with a message like Obama’s and a face like a Kennedy’s, has seen his star rise so steeply that, for now, he seems to have reached escape velocity from mere politics. For a moment, at least, he’s become cultural phenomenon on the lips and in the hearts of Democrats around the country in a way few outside of Obama and Bernie Sanders have achieved before him.

He transcends politics by, um, being Obamaesque and Kennedyesque? By mouthing standard Democratic talking points and being a reasonably attractive man in his 40s? Hey, I’m not knocking that latter achievement, for which I certainly didn’t qualify.  However, it’s tough to figure out how O’Rourke qualifies as “Kennedyesque” except to the extent that people keep insisting that Beto’s “Kennedyesque,” nor how this all “transcends politics.”

Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina tries to explain it:

Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s re-election campaign, said O’Rourke has a rare combination of “inspiration, aspiration and authenticity” that moves people as he skateboards his way across Texas.

“People are motivated by him as a political leader and a human being,” Messina said in an email. “He is authentic, and luckily, authentically cool. For him to play air drums to The Who or skateboard is both authentic and cool. People want to hang out with him.”

I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure that John F. Kennedy didn’t get known for skateboarding and air-drum solos to Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. Kennedy came from wealth and influence, fought in World War II (a record that had a little mythologizing along the way), and actually won a Senate race or two before becoming a national phenomenon. JFK transcended politics a bit by writing a Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, that didn’t focus entirely on electoral politics.

Other than winning three elections in a D+17 district, what exactly has Beto done to become a national phenomenon? Beto isn’t Kennedyesque — he’s Kardashianesque, famous for being famous, thanks to a national media that has desperately tried to manufacture him into the Young Handsome Democrat Du Jour.

If that sounds familiar, it’s just because you remember the name Jon Ossoff. A year ago, the same national media tried the same thing with another young Democrat, helping him to raise tens of millions of dollars for a campaign that went nowhere. In my column for The Week, I argue that Democratic mythologizing this time around could cost them dearly:

Ossoff was the Young Handsome Democrat Du Jour in 2017, running in a special election to fill the vacant seat of Tom Price, whose short-lived stint as Health and Human Services secretary hardly made it worth the bother. Democrats poured tens of millions of dollars into the special election for a House seat that they likely wouldn’t be able to hold in the next election; the Cook index rating for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has a six-point advantage for Republicans. The big push for Ossoff was intended to show that Democrats could compete in the GOP’s traditional districts, post-President Trump.

The race ate up over $50 million in donations, with Ossoff handily outraising Republican nominee Karen Handel. In the quarter prior to the special election, Ossoff brought in and spent $20 million from all around the country. And in the end, Handel won 52 percent to 48 percent. That was much closer than Price’s margin the year before (62-38), but still a loss. On the same day, Roll Call‘s Patricia Murphy recalls, Democrat Archie Parnell lost a special election in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District (Cook index: R+9) to Republican Ralph Norman 51-48, with only a small fraction of the resources directed to Ossoff. “A staffer there told me that even $100,000 of Ossoff’s $30 million could have won the race for them,” Murphy wrote this week. “Instead, they both lost.” …

Ironically, it’s the good news for O’Rourke this week that makes this plain. Thanks to a highly organized national effort, O’Rourke’s campaign raised $38 million in the most recent quarter, from July through September. That almost tripled incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s $12 million in the same period. O’Rourke has led in all three quarters this year by a 2:1 margin or greater, even when accounting for the outside PAC money raised for Cruz. On fundraising prowess alone, O’Rourke has turned in the best performance since … Jon Ossoff.

What did all that fundraising buy? Almost no movement in the polls. Cruz leads across a variety of pollsters this week by an even greater margin than last month. A new CNN poll puts O’Rourke behind by seven, a New York Times/Siena poll has him down eight, and Quinnipiac has the gap at nine points. All three plus a CBS/YouGov poll have Cruz at 50 percent or above, safe ground for an incumbent with less than three weeks to go. O’Rourke’s average polling support has barely budged despite that massive infusion of cash from all over the country, going from 42 percent at the beginning of summer to just under 44 percent now.

Just as with Ossoff, the ridiculous amounts of money invested in a long-shot bid in deep red territory didn’t change the dynamics of the electorate involved. However, it ate up resources that could have been used for other gains. The big bet on O’Rourke might end up costing Democrats Nevada, and maybe more.

Democrats are trying to sell style over substance in Texas, which is understandable given Beto’s actual substance as an Obama clone trying to win in a deep-red state. What’s much less understandable is why the media keeps playing along.

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David Strom 2:31 PM on October 04, 2022
David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022