OPINION: Beto’s candidacy came to its natural conclusion


Beto O'Rourke, former Democratic presidential candidate and Texas representative, waves as he arrives onstage Sept. 12 during the third Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

And just like that, another one goes.

Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) announced Nov. 1 that he was dropping out of the presidential race. The three-term congressman best known for his near-successful 2018 run against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) started out strong in the presidential race. Registering a 9.5% polling average nationally at his April 2019 height and raising an eye-popping $9.4 million in his campaign's first 18 days, his tumble into obscurity should seem like a surprise. Truthfully, it was destined to happen.

Nicknamed “Betomania” by the media, O’Rourke propelled to national stardom during the 2018 midterm elections. With viral videos like when he defended NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem and a campaign that raised nearly $80 million, something about him resonated with Texans and the nation. O’Rourke nearly toppled Sen. Cruz in the Lone Star State, losing by a slim 2.6%. He was a rockstar within the Democratic Party as some even wondered if he was the next Kennedy or Obama.

Now let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

There’s a fundamental difference between Kennedy and Obama vs. O’Rourke — they won their races. Like him or not, he didn’t make it across the finish line. As someone best known for almost winning a state race, how can anyone expect that to be a selling point for president? Does the Democratic Party really want their torchbearer to be someone who can almost win? 

Similarly, I can’t help but feel as if his whole campaign just felt so unbelievably fake and contrived. It was almost like it was like a premature "Beto’s Greatest Hits" album from his 2018 race. Skateboarding? Check. In-N-Out? Check. Swearing every once in a while to earn a few news stories? Check check check.

He tried to rehash what made him a great candidate for Senate in Texas, not realizing that it doesn’t cut it on the national level. His cool-dad, authentic persona was a big strong suit for him, but it’s important to keep in mind that anyone with a semblance of charm seems down-to-earth compared to Sen. Cruz. Trying to redo his act in 2020 felt like a high school football star reliving his glory days a decade too late.

Interestingly enough, the only time O’Rourke truly seemed genuine during the campaign was when he polling at his lowest. When he unveiled his unabashed support of a mandatory gun buyback program in the last debate, it may have seemed like a final Hail Mary to his fledgling campaign, but it still demonstrated political courage. The idea is used as a boogeyman for the GOP as the party parrots the idea that Democrats want to take away everyone’s guns. The El Paso shooting brought a raw, honest reaction out of O’Rourke, something his campaign had lacked for the most part.

In the end, O’Rourke unfortunately learned that he could only capitalize on his newfound national recognition so much before it hit a wall. Betomania devolved into a Beto-blip until it finally became a Beto-bust.

I genuinely don’t know what comes next in O’Rourke’s political career. His old congressional seat is happily occupied by Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), and he’s explicitly stated he has no interest whatsoever in running for the 2020 U.S. Senate Seat against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). In a short interview with freelance political analyst Drew Savicki, he gave me two feasible options for O’Rourke: “run for Senate” or “get a TV job,” adding that “there's not much a former congressman can do to stay relevant.” 

And that’s the crux of the issue. At the end of the day, O’Rourke’s only political experience is still just a congressman. Mr. “I’m just born to be in it”’s vanity got the best of him and he flew too close to the sun. Icarus now has two options: cable news commentator or Cornyn opponent.

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