The shine is off Beto O’Rourke.
Everybody knows it. Nobody wants to say it. But it’s true.
What gave it away? Maybe it’s the fact that Democrats like Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren have already announced for president, raising money, and traveling to the early primary states. Meanwhile, El Paso’s own former Congressman turned unemployed wonderer waffles like a latter-day Prince of Denmark.
To run or not to run, that is the question.
Or maybe it’s Beto’s own indifference.
The rambling blog posts from his quixotic road trip spawned a popular parody Twitter account. Cormac McCarthy he is not. Instead, he comes off as shallow, an impression reinforced by his disastrous interview with The Washington Post, which showed him to be positively incoherent on basic national policy debates.
Regardless, Beto O’Rourke has had the worst 2019 of any prospective Democratic presidential candidate to date. He has quickly become a punchline, in no small part because he simply doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not 2018, and he’s not running against Ted Cruz anymore.
If Beto hopes to become anything more than a mediocre writer and connoisseur of cobblers, he needs to stop learning the lessons of his last campaign and start understanding he’s about to enter a whole different beast. Presidential campaigns are media circuses, not media praise circles, and that means Beto needs to spend more time being himself and less time finding himself.
As Donald Trump taught us, voters respond to authenticity. Say what you will about our 45th President, no one can deny that he is unscripted and what you see is what you get -- for better and worse.
In late winter 2016, after Trump had opened up a lead in the Republican primaries, the remaining candidates, in a last-ditch effort to stop him, tried to become him. And well, that worked out as badly as you could’ve expected. There were the unfiltered twitter barbs, the hokey nickname imitations, and even the jokes about the size of Trump’s hands (and other unmentionable body parts).
Yet, when it comes to authenticity, the biggest tightrope for each candidate to walk is to be themselves without coming across as forced.
That’s the first area where Beto stepped in it.
Last year, his skateboarding and swearing on the campaign trail was hip and different. This year, the dental live stream and blog posts that read like a 10th grader imitating Jack Kerouac are cheesy, even creepy.
Furthermore, “I’m not Ted Cruz” is not a viable message in a Democratic primary, especially when he’s likely to share a debate stage with the likes of Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Joe Biden. Beto needs to be about something, not just against the Republican U.S. Senator from Texas.
What sets him apart? What makes him the best choice for Democratic primary voters?
A dozen Medium posts later, that’s a question he hasn’t answered.
Dubuque is a long way from Dallas, and coming within a few points of defeating a Republican senator in a blue wave is not the same as defeating accomplished and charismatic candidates in a Democratic presidential primary.
In fact, he’s demonstrated he has little more than the vague, yet commonly-assigned political attribute called “potential.” And the only reason he got it was thanks to a combination of fawning media profiles and a moral victory in his Senate campaign.
Beto, in effect, won by losing. But that doesn’t cut it anymore.
If Beto insists on pretending that this is 2018, he can look forward to a campaign implosion of spectacular proportions.
The rest of us, though, can look forward to more parody tweets.