This is not the first time O’Rourke—a politician, it should be noted, without a constituency: no district, almost no support in the polls—has promised to make conservatives’ worst nightmares come true. After adopting gun control as a marquee issue following the mass shooting in El Paso earlier this year, O’Rourke promised a mandatory gun buyback program for assault weapons, memorably telling a moderator, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” Not long after, Trump and Republicans blamed his comments for making it harder to get a gun control deal done in Congress. (Yes, that’s a bit rich coming from the GOP, but I’ll come back to that).

These are not the only far-left positions Beto has staked out recently. He’s strongly pro reparations, for instance. But his comments about churches and guns are especially remarkable, in that he’s essentially adopting unpopular stances that Democratic politicians have spent years claiming are unfair caricatures of their actual beliefs. He is turning himself into a walking straw man, the non-fringe guy Republicans can reliably point to when they want to say: “See, the libs really do want to take your guns and shut down your churches.”…

Now, O’Rourke has thrown kerosene on the issue all over again, and for what? For many religious institutions, this is a legitimately existential issue—paying property taxes, business income taxes (assuming they do more than break even), and losing the ability to collect tax deductible donations would be a massive financial blow. For LGBTQ rights activists, it would perhaps be a moral victory, but one that would also risk triggering an explosive culture war over faith that could transform gay marriage back into a deeply polarizing topic when it’s been trending in the other direction. Meanwhile, I’ve seen no evidence that O’Rourke’s position has much support among a wide swath Democratic voters or leaders. Yet there is now video of a telegenic presidential candidate bringing form to religious conservatives’ worst fears, like some sort of tax-policy Babadook.