Beto Wants to Be Like Obama, but Announced More Like Trump
Most other Democrats aren’t big on policy themselves, but none of the other announced candidates have spent as much time as O’Rourke describing his search to discover if being president was right for him. To his fans, O’Rourke is the new candidate who can speak about what his party wants more believably and relatably. “I alone can fix it,” Trump famously said in his speech at the Republican convention. “I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it,” O’Rourke is quoted as saying on the Vanity Fair cover.
His tone on Thursday morning couldn’t have been more different than Trump’s, even though the crowd that showed up at a coffee shop in Keokuk, Iowa, was as white as the lobby that afternoon in Trump Tower almost four years ago. Trump had talked about how Mexicans are rapists; O’Rourke gave thoughtful answers about how the brown and black people who weren’t represented in the room are the ones who suffer most because of the country’s drug laws. In the most anti-Trump thing he could have said, he promised not to “denigrate or demean” any of his opponents.
The political world is left wondering what this will amount to. His rivals, at varying levels of anxiety, make jokes that go from mocking him to gallows humor. Reporters, most of them ignored by O’Rourke’s skeleton staff and left chasing rumors from Iowa Democrats about where he would be on this first Iowa trip, are still flooding out to gawk. Many of them are wary of another candidacy that seems high on pizzaz and short on substance, but just as conscious of what O’Rourke means for ratings and clicks.
Trump’s own response was having White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley go on Fox and refer to Beto by his full name, “Robert Francis.” When asked if that’s what Trump will do himself, Gidley replied, “Why wouldn’t he? That’s his name.” A little while later in the Oval Office, Trump was focused on O’Rourke’s gesticulating hands.
“I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’” he said, centering his criticism entirely on how O’Rourke came across on TV.
There are Democrats who are impressed. “You can make a strong argument that Beto is the only candidate in the race so far who has demonstrated the ability to tell a story and command media oxygen in a way that could rival Trump’s,” said one top Democratic operative, eager to discuss O’Rourke but wary of singling him out for praise.
“In 12 hours, he has already bragged about being ‘born’ for this, made his wife sit quietly next to him, and talked about how he ‘sometimes’ helps raising his children,” said an aide to one of the other Democratic candidates. “If his goal was to soften the blow of white man’s privilege, he has failed spectacularly.”
O’Rourke, however, did score three immediate endorsements from his former colleagues in the House, all women: Kathleen Rice of New York, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Victoria Escobar of Texas.