After more than a year of glowing profiles about his boundless charisma, it was inevitable that someone would write a piece that attempts to pop the Beto bubble. Politico’s Michael Kruse does just that today with a piece titled “Beto’s Long History of Failing Upward.” Kruse points out that the piece of Beto’s biography he most often talks about on the campaign trail is his loss to Sen. Ted Cruz last year. That is, after all, the thing that made him a star. But Kruse notes that it’s hardly the only loss in Beto’s life from which he has somehow managed to benefit:
There’s a reason his biography doesn’t feature much in the campaign. For O’Rourke, the phenomenon on display in that race—failure without negative effects, and with perhaps even some kind of personal boost—is a feature of his life and career. That biography is marked as much by meandering, missteps and moments of melancholic searching as by résumé-boosting victories and honors. A graduate of an eastern prep school and an Ivy League rower and English major, the only son of a gregarious attorney and glad-handing pol and the proprietor of an upscale furniture store, the beneficiary of his family’s expansive social, business and political contacts, O’Rourke has ambled past a pair of arrests, designed websites for El Paso’s who’s who, launched short-lived publishing projects, self-term-limited his largely unremarkable tenure on Capitol Hill, shunned the advice of pollsters and consultants and penned overwrought, solipsistic Medium missives, enjoying the latitude afforded by the cushion of an upper-middle-class upbringing that is only amplified by his marriage to the daughter of one of the region’s richest men.
“With a charmed life like his, you can never really lose,” an ad commissioned by the conservative Club for Growth sneered last month. “That’s why Beto’s running for president—because he can.”
“A life of privilege,” David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, told me.
It’s not just Republicans who think this. “He’s a rich, straight, white dude who, you know, married into what should politely be called ‘fuck you money,’” Sonia Van Meter, an Austin-based Democratic consultant and self-described “raging feminist,” told me. “His biggest success is by definition a failure,” she added. “He’s absolutely failed up.”…
In the end, O’Rourke’s best recommendation that he can win might be that he knows how to fail big—and then aim even higher.
The bulk of the story walks through some of his previous failures. His DWI arrest. His decision to start a print newspaper in 2002, at a time when print was dying. The piece sums up that failure this way: “It lasted 15 issues.”
He had more luck in politics, though. Winning a race for City Council and then a seat in Congress in 2012 against an established incumbent. But if the lesson Beto learned from that was that he could take on the establishment and win, it didn’t work out for him last year. He made the race against Ted Cruz closer than many thought he could, but he still lost.
And somehow he’s failed upward into the presidential campaign. Though that’s not going as well as he might have hoped. Here’s how the Texas Tribune described his current situation earlier this week:
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is continuing to campaign aggressively, but after a highly anticipated launch about two months ago — and a heady opening stretch — he has settled into a more conventional position: one of over 20 contenders, grinding it out on the road while working to stand out from the massive field. His poll numbers have ticked down, the press corps following him has thinned a little and a couple of rivals have replaced him on center stage. And yes, he is back down in more ways than one, no longer hopping on tables as much as he did during those very early days.
Beto really needs the spotlight for his act to work. Right now he’s working in the shadows of candidates with better claims (Biden, Sanders, Harris) plus a new outside phenom in the form of Pete Buttigieg who has, at least temporarily, stolen the wild card slot from him.
But if Beto is down, he’s not quite out. Both Politico and Texas Monthly suggest he has one thing going for him which, apart from his family wealth, probably helps to explains his ability to fail upward so often: He works hard on the campaign trail. That doesn’t mean he’s going to catch fire again like he did last year, but if there’s a chance or an opening for him, he’ll be ready to take advantage of it. As Hillary found out the hard way in 2016, in American politics hard work really does trump nearly everything else.