In 2017, I saw Beto O’Rourke at one of his first official campaign rallies in Austin, Texas. He seemed like a smart and honest guy with ideas that could improve the lives of Texans, but I thought he had a zero percent chance of winning in Texas.
O’Rourke ended up surprising me and the rest of Texas as his signs started popping up in traditionally more conservative areas such as Houston and Fort Worth, Texas. Eventually, the nation caught on to the sensation that was Beto O’Rourke. All of a sudden, the narrative changed from “this liberal has no chance” to “maybe the Zodiac Killer (Ted Cruz) could actually be defeated.” The skateboarding, Whataburger-eating, Facebook-livestreaming Beto O’Rourke had a real shot at knocking out Sen. Cruz.
Ultimately, as is common for Texan Democrats, O’Rourke lost a tight race. Although it was a crushing defeat for Democrats, Beto-mania ended up helping Democrats all over the state.
On a state level, Democrats came within 5 points of defeating Mr. Bathroom Bill and right-winger Dan Patrick, compared to 19 points in 2014. Even Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has “been under three felony indictments for 36 of the 44 months he’s been in office,” only won by 4 percentage points. In the Texas House, Democrats picked up a dozen seats.
On a federal level, Democrats knocked off a powerful congressman and House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions. The Texas Congressional delegation went from 25–11, favoring Republicans, to 23–13, and many house seats all over the state came within a few percentage points of making that margin much closer. Although it does not seem like a great advance, a few dents in the Republican armor could go a long way as we prepare for the race of our lives in 2020.
After the work that O’Rourke did to approach a Cruz upset and to bring many Democrats over the finish line, the #BetoforPresident Tweets began rolling in. Although many prominent Democrats have entered the 2020 race, with more coming, there is a very real possibility that O’Rourke will run.
I am not a political expert but, based on his travels and interviews, I would be shocked if O’Rourke doesn’t jump head first into the race. From blogging in Kansas to the stops in Wisconsin and Illinois, to the high-profile interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which he mentioned he would decide whether or not to run by the end of the month, it seems like he’s already made up his mind.
If those events seem inconclusive, then how about his showdown with President Donald Trump in his hometown of El Paso, Texas over the border wall? O’Rourke spoke at the exact same time as the President, delivering a message in front of more than 10,000 people that was the antithesis of Trump’s goals. He emphasized the importance of immigrants to the El Paso community, that the time to stand was now, and that “Walls don’t save lives, they end lives.” Trump showed up in O’Rourke’s home, and he responded by confronting the President directly.
As someone who lives in Texas and proudly supports O’Rourke, I’m torn about his possible presidential ambitions. My heart says that he should run for President, but my brain supports a run for Senate in 2020 against John Cornyn, or waiting a little longer to run for the top job. Although O’Rourke is a charismatic young member of Congress and a social media giant, like someone who ran in 2008…, he would be joining a crowded field of big names like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, [and possibly Joe Biden].
My worry is that if O’Rourke runs, he wouldn’t even crack the top five — that he would fizzle out and join the list of up-and-coming candidates who disappear from the public sphere. There are also many qualified Democrats who have similar policy positions and want nothing more than to defeat a possible incumbent President Trump, so it may not even be necessary for O’Rourke to run.
Additionally, in terms of benefiting the state of Texas, running for Senate in 2020 would make the most sense. I know everyone says this every two to four years — that Texas is turning blue, blah, blah, blah — but Texas Democrats have a real shot at closing the gap in the Texas house, to close in on the Republican super-majority in the Senate, and to flip more Congressional House seats blue. O’Rourke would undoubtedly be able to pick up where he left off in 2018 and galvanize Texas voters. He would have a real shot at knocking out another Trump lackey, Cornyn, in 2020.
In an ideal world, where there was a candidate with name recognition and campaign abilities comparable to O’Rourke’s who could challenge Cornyn in 2020, I would be all for O’Rourke running for President. However, there is currently no one who fits that description.
We will soon see what O’Rourke decides to do: risk it and go after Trump, play it relatively safe and challenge Cornyn, or maybe lay low for a while and campaign for Democrats in 2020. I’m not sure if O’Rourke will go with his heart or his brain, but I sure can’t wait to see.