Yes, they both ran against Ted Cruz at one point, but that’s not it.
The answer is authenticity. You either have it or you don’t. And if you do, it can make up for a multitude of sins.
And for Beto, this could be how he ends up as the nominee.
For better or worse, you know who Donald Trump is and what’s on his mind. It’s obvious to anyone who has listened to him for more than five minutes that his answers aren’t poll-tested, messages aren’t focus-grouped, and his tweets aren’t approved by legions of staff – or really anyone for that matter.
Again, this isn’t always a good thing. But his authenticity does enable him to connect with people.
It was this contrast that – in many ways – helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Where does Beto fit in?
A few weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed extremely critical of Beto. I believed then – and I still do – that he’s had the worst 2019 of any presidential candidate. While Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and others were raising money, hiring staff, and meeting voters, Beto was out driving the countryside eating cobbler and writing rambling blog posts.
The biggest thing Beto needs to learn is that this isn’t 2018 anymore. He’s not running against Ted Cruz. He’s running against accomplished political talent in his own party. He needs to make the case why he should be the nominee. That’s his biggest challenge.
However, if he learns from his mistakes and takes advantage of his natural political ability – which he undoubtedly has – he may end up defeating the deepest Democratic primary field in a generation and facing off against President Trump in the fall.
Beto, like Trump, lets you into his personality. He swears and skateboards and shows you that who you see on stage is most likely the same person you’d see at home. He also isn’t afraid to take far-left positions in a red state. For better or worse, he’s a liberal and he doesn’t care what you think.
Can he take it too far? Absolutely.
Authenticity doesn’t mean putting your dental visits on social media or penning blog posts that read like a 10th-grade term paper about your quixotic road trips.
However, if Beto can strike the right balance, he has the ability to do what almost no one in the field can do: unite the Obama coalition.
Democrats have been hard pressed to find someone who can cobble together the level of support that Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton certainly couldn’t. To do this, you need to energize minority voters, white liberals, and engage young people. That is not an easy feat.
Out of the whole field, though, Beto has the best shot and his secret weapon is his authenticity. It’s something most of the other candidates will be hard-pressed to compete with. Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Biden will have to reckon with their more moderate pasts and long histories in Congress.
While Kamala Harris has struggled coming across as authentic during her initial early state trips. As The New York Times wrote, she “appears uneasy committing to a policy at all, perhaps sensing a political hazard.”
Say what you will about Beto, but he doesn’t seem to have those problems. What you see is what you get. And that may take him farther than you think.