So O’Rourke decided to be the hate-click candidate. There is a certain genre of nominally progressive journalism that is less about making progressives happy than about making conservatives angry. Superficially, this kind of journalism is about bravely advancing some aspect of left-wing values, but really it is about getting engagement (and clicks and ad revenue) from outraged critics.
In journalism, this is the province of editors who are desperately trying to keep money-losing operations afloat and writers who are desperate to maintain a place in the creative economy. They get traffic, but more hate and contempt than respect. Still, the traffic can create the illusion of a constituency.
Beto thought he could get attention by taking provocative stands and then leverage the hostile reaction from conservatives into sympathy from liberals. He told rural gun owners that “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” and threatened to take away the tax exemptions of churches that didn’t recognize same-sex marriage.
This got Beto a lot of news coverage, but it didn’t move his poll numbers. Increased engagement did not equal increased support. What was interesting was that even on the sewer that is social media, relatively few liberal Democrats supported using the tax code to specifically target socially conservative churches. A much larger number were in favor of removing the tax exemption from all churches, but few would defend Beto’s intentionally more inflammatory and bigoted proposal. In a late-October poll of Iowa, Beto got 1 percent. White liberals might want radical change, but they didn’t want to elect Salon.com circa 2015, and Beto was obviously a phony anyway.