Beto 2020? How O'Rourke became a Texas sensation who could shape the future of the Democrats
I reproduce in full below an article from the Leftist "Guardian". Like many others, I had noticed the popularity of O'Rourke among Leftists. I had heard nothing of what ideas he stood for and wanted to find out. So I read the article below carefully. I found nothing in that long article about his ideas. The only thing that came close was his approval of the kneeling footballers. Essentially, he appears to be a man of no ideas, a policy emptyhead
Contrast that with "Build the wall" and "lock her up", which are succinct but very clear policy proposals. I in fact wonder why Trump has initiated no legal proceedings against Hillary. There certainly seem "prima facie" grounds for at least some charges. I suspect that Trump has simply acted within the wise Western tradition of mercy to the defeated -- something I wrote about recently
So I can only assume that O'Rourke is a smooth-talking supporter of each and every sort of grievance and that he conveys a pervasive dislike of America as it is. He presumably supports standard Leftist talking points such as free healthcare for all and raising the minimum wage but that in no way makes him unique and therefore does not explain his notable drawing power. It would be sad indeed if such an emptyhead were to attain significant political office in America
O'Rourke is however well within a grand old Leftist tradition of policy vacuity. When a Leftist sees a problem his reponse is usually little more than "pass a law"! Any thought about the causes of the problem is minimal and simplistic
Ezra Klein, self-described "wonk" and editor of the Leftist "Vox" site has an article up under the title, "To beat Trump, House Democrats need to fight on policy, not just scandals" -- so he too sees Leftist vacuity as a problem
When Beto O’Rourke, the punk rock guitarist turned US congressman for the distant border town of El Paso, announced in March 2017 that he was going to run for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in Texas, the spokesman for the state’s Republican party quipped: “Who?”
No one is asking who Beto O’Rourke is now. He may have lost his plucky bid to win the first statewide election in Texas as a Democrat since 1994, but he came so close that he thoroughly wiped the smirks off Republican faces.
Less than three percentage points separated the incumbent senator and his insurgent challenger – 50.9% Cruz, 48.3% O’Rourke – 222,922 votes out of more than 8m cast.
For O’Rourke it marks a phenomenal achievement. In just 19 months, almost unassisted, he took the Texan Democratic party from its virtually moribund condition, gave it a stiff dose of adrenalin, and brought it back to life.
For Texas, and for the US, the fact that O’Rourke came within striking distance represents something even bigger – the hope that the second largest state in the union might finally be freeing itself from the iron grip of the Republican party.
That in turn raises a tantalizing prospect for progressives everywhere – if O’Rourke could do it in Texas, a place synonymous with the modern hardline Republican party, what could he do in other parts of the US?
“If you look at the top line and see O’Rourke losing, you’re missing the point,” said Bethany Albertson, associate professor at University of Texas at Austin. “No Democrat has come close in Texas in decades, voter turnout was way up, and young people who have never voted before were drawn for the first time into the democratic process.”
That’s a formula that the Democratic party nationwide is desperate to replicate. But how did he do it? What was the secret of the Beto magic?
When O’Rourke set out on his unlikely mission he did so with the contemporary equivalent of a horse and cart. As Rolling Stone has pointed out, at that point he had two aides, both of them old friends from El Paso, and a rented sedan.
He put them to good use. By election day he had spawned a vast army of 25,000 volunteers and had raised $70m – all of it through small donations through the online portal ActBlue, not a penny through big corporate donors – more than any US Senate campaign in history.
O’Rourke wore through a lot of shoe leather in the process. He crisscrossed a state that is larger than France – from his hometown of El Paso to the eastern border of Texas is 900 miles – visiting each of its 254 counties. His message was: “I wouldn’t vote for a politician I had never seen either.”
Wherever he went, he sprinkled seeds of Democratic rebirth. Using digital apps, he empowered volunteers in each county to begin mobilizing their neighbors. It was entirely decentralised, with next to no quality control, which meant trusting volunteers implicitly – but it succeeded in unleashing huge reserves of untapped energy.
Carrie Collier-Brown, a lawyer from the suburbs of south-west Austin, was one of the new Beto super-volunteers. She described what it has been like this year creating a team of about 150 volunteers in her area out of nothing.
“We built the infrastructure out of scraps and with no instructions,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants all year.”
Together with a “bunch of pissed-off suburban women”, as she puts it, she set up in January a group of volunteers which they called “Blue Action Democrats”. Every weekend they knocked on hundreds of doors, liaising closely with the local Beto O’Rourke campaign staff.
In the final weeks of the election they were supported by “pop-up offices”, more than 700 of which mushroomed across Texas. The offices were improvised out of volunteers’ spare rooms, studies, garages, garden sheds – any space where the all-important get-out-the-vote drive could be spearheaded.
The numbers tell the story. Sixty-eight percent of registered voters in Collier-Brown’s area turned out and cast their ballot – twice the proportion in the last midterm elections in 2014 and slightly more even than the 2016 presidential election.
Collier-Brown said that there was a price to pay – “My kids are very close to calling me Aunty Carrie” – but the gains have been immense. “The Beto campaign has taught us an important lesson: that connecting with your neighbors is how to engage everyone, how to take back our democracy, and ultimately how to win elections.”
Collier-Brown is part of one of two key electoral groups which O’Rourke focused on more than any others – white women (or Anglo women as they are known in Texas). Exit polls show that O’Rourke attracted the votes of 39% of Texan white women – compared with the 29% who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University, thinks that 10-point swing was partly explained by a female backlash to the vulgarity, aggressive posturing and sexual impropriety of Donald Trump. But that was not all.
“Beto O’Rourke wasn’t just campaigning against Trump. He was campaigning for a different kind of politics that are optimistic, positive. He spoke to thousands of people who are upset about the divisiveness in America today.”
Soon after O’Rourke had conceded defeat on Tuesday night, he addressed thousands of his loyal supporters in a baseball stadium in El Paso. He told them: “We’re not about being against anybody. We are not going to define ourselves by who or what we are against, or what we are afraid of or scared about. We are great people.”
That message also spoke to the second key group mobilized by his campaign – young people. Again, the numbers tell the story.
In 2016, Clinton attracted the votes of 55% of the 18-29 age range in Texas, to Trump’s 36%. This week, O’Rourke won a stunning 71%, to Cruz’s 29%.
Not only did he win over young people in far greater proportions, he also crucially managed to unlock a door that has been frustratingly closed to progressive causes in vast swaths of America for years. He persuaded young voters who usually overwhelmingly opt to stay at home in midterm elections to get off their couches, get over to the polling stations, and vote.
Figures for overall Texas turnout have yet to be completed, but early voting data is again stunning. The number of 18 to 29-year-olds casting an early ballot this year was five times greater than in the 2014 midterms.
One crucial explanation for how O’Rourke opened the door on young voting was that he speaks to Texans in their own language. Literally so, if they are Hispanic – having grown up in El Paso, a city with an 80% Latino population, he is bilingual in Spanish and flips effortlessly between idioms.
He also speaks the language of the young. He is fluent in Instagram and Snapchat, and has a flair for producing viral videos, whether air-drumming to the Who or skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot.
When the Guardian talked shortly before the election to Karl Rove, the ultimate political kingmaker in Texas who helped turn the state Republican in the 1990s, he was dismissive about O’Rourke’s most viral video. In it, the Democratic candidate defended NFL players who had taken the knee during the national anthem in protest at police brutality, saying there was “nothing more American” than that.
For Rove, that video demonstrated that O’Rourke would never be able to win over the mainstream of the Texan electorate as he was too outspokenly liberal. What Rove may not have counted on, however, was how electrifying such a statement might have been for many younger Texans who are more receptive to new expressions of patriotism.
O’Rourke amplified his natural affinity with younger voters through a heavy push on social media. Much of the $70m he raised through small online donations – twice the amount brought in by his opponent – went on digital advertising, especially on Facebook where ads were kept to six seconds or less and tightly targeted both geographically and on voters’ personal interests.
According to the Texas Tribune, for much of 2018 his campaign invested more than any other political advertiser on Facebook. In the last six months more than $6m of O’Rourke ads on the site were viewed almost 20 million times.
Young voters, white women, Latinos, online fundraising, digital advertising, social media, volunteering, shoe leather – the Beto O’Rourke campaign had it all in terms of modern electioneering. It may have been largely improvised, and there was no instruction manual, but it did the job.
Not only did it bring O’Rourke within a whisker of pulling off the biggest political upset in decades, it also had a knock-on effect for other Democratic candidates lower down the ticket.
What is being dubbed the “Beto coattail” syndrome played a major role in taking back the US House of Representatives for the Democrats by boosting turnout and thus helping Collin Allred in Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher in Houston unseat incumbent Republican Congress members.
The impact was even more pronounced in the state legislature where two Republican state senators were turfed out and at least 12 Texas House seats flipped from the Republicans to Democrats.
In many ways the explosion of energy that O’Rourke has brought to the progressive movement in Texas bears comparison to the equally audacious campaign conjured up by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race.
Both politicians are notable for their charisma and rhetorical skills, and for the skill in which they communicated through social media and in person.
Which is why, perhaps inevitably, whispers of “Beto 2020” can already be heard floating in the Texas wind. “Beto has done the near impossible,” said Mark Jones. “If he wants to run for the White House, there’s definitely a lane open for him.”