What is to be made of all this? Why has Beto opted to pursue the single campaign strategy that seems most likely to hamstring his own political future within his state—and thus perhaps do the most damage to his own party?
The idealist answer is that O’Rourke simply doesn’t care about all these fussy political machinations and triangulations—that he’s simply following what he believes to be right, and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s a possibility, but one that’s hard to reconcile with his refusal to consider challenging Cornyn: If achieving a more stringent gun policy were truly more important to Beto than becoming president, wouldn’t he be doing his part to make sure Democrats get the necessary legislative seats to pass those policies—because Democrats have to defeat Mitch McConnell in addition to Donald Trump if they want to pass their dream agenda.
Then there’s the more cynical answer: That Team Beto has simply decided that making moves that appear to work dramatically against their own private political interest is itself the foundation of a useful political brand. Plenty of O’Rourke’s recent decisions might lead one to suspect this is the case: Not just the gun policy swerve, but also recent changes such as his new habit of deploying ostentatious profanity in his TV appearances. Here’s a guy who’s too fed up to care about the regular, stuffy rules, Beto’s new stance seems to say. And isn’t that the kind of guy who’d make a good president?