But in reality, he more closely resembles another retro Democratic politician who is now viewed as one of the least successful presidential nominees in the modern era: George McGovern.
History repeats itself, and the notion of a youth-inspired progressive candidacy toppling more-established challengers is nothing new. It happened in 1972, another major inflection point for the Democratic Party when old rules favoring the establishment were discarded in favor of aiding a progressive insurgency. At the time, the liberal echo chamber was insular enough that the late film reviewer Pauline Kael reportedly expressed shock at Richard Nixon’s 49-state reelection victory.
If Democrats nominate a candidate like O’Rourke eager to lean in on the polarizing culture wars, it would be the greatest gift Trump could receive. A Democratic bet on Beto would be a rebuke of the party’s carefully crafted and successful congressional strategy of 2018, with Democratic leaders advising their candidates to focus on bread-and-butter economic issues over polarizing cultural fights. O’Rourke’s viral moment defending the NFL players taking a knee during the anthem was a hit with his core supporters, but was critical fodder in motivating a disengaged Republican base. (The issue isn’t a hit with swing voters, either: 54 percent viewed such kneeling during the anthem as inappropriate in an August 2018 NBC/Wall Street Journal survey.)