Those who might dismiss the Lincoln-O’Rourke analogy do well to scoff; despite their common traits, the two are vastly different—and 2020 is not 1860. But the comparisons are intriguing nonetheless. Like Lincoln, O’Rourke is charismatic, tall, lanky, filled with energy, an accomplished public speaker and a natural campaigner. Like Lincoln, O’Rourke is a can-do underdog with an ability to command an audience and energize an army of followers. And finally—just like Lincoln—O’Rourke would begin his quest for the presidency (he says he’s not a candidate, but who believes that), following a Senate campaign that he actually lost. “I go back through our history and tick off the candidates for the presidency and I can’t think of anyone who became president after losing a Senate campaign,” Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, the author of the groundbreaking Lincoln At Cooper Union, says. “There’s Lincoln and no one else. If Beto O’Rourke does it he would be the second. I have to say, that would be amazing.”
There’s more: Lincoln’s loss to Stephen A. Douglas back in 1858, Holzer points out, actually enhanced Lincoln’s reputation, just as O’Rourke’s loss to Cruz has enhanced his. No less than the Texas Monthly (that go-to arbiter of Lone Star politics) noted that while O’Rourke lost his bid for the Senate, his strong showing in a conservative state made him a winner. He came in just 2.6 percentage points behind his opponent, in what became the closest race in Texas in 40 years. “Beto O’Rourke lost his fight with Ted Cruz while helping his Democratic Party more than any other candidate in two decades,” the Monthly intoned.
The same is true for Lincoln.