Beto O’Rourke switches his style and tone as the spotlight dims

O’Rourke’s handling of many Democratic voters’ needs for a rhetorically different approach has developed in full view. In his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, O’Rourke favored a sunny, optimistic pitch, only rarely castigating his Republican opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz.

He has tried to stay true to that approach, but he now calls the president “racist” and regularly compares him to Hitler, an escalation of his prior criticism of Trump and his administration.

He specifically began to take aim at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after hearing several voters do the same, including a frustrated retired educator in North Carolina who called DeVos “a lunatic.” The crowd, gathered at a pub in Greensboro, laughed and applauded, while one man shouted: “Amen!”

“Well, I would put it differently,” O’Rourke said gently. “But, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Let’s be respectful of everyone.”

At a town hall the next day in Virginia, O’Rourke pledged to protect schools from DeVos, prompting spirited applause. The day after that, he confidently asked a crowd in Fredericksburg, Va.: “Do you all think that we can do better than Betsy DeVos as secretary of education?” The crowd loudly cheered, and O’Rourke said: “I do, too.”