Beto O’Rourke has enjoyed a meteoric rise to political fame throughout 2018 and 2019. After serving for six years in the House of Representatives for Texas’s 16th district, O’Rourke came within three points of unseating Ted Cruz from his Senate position in the 2018 election through grassroots tactics and social media campaigning, raising record amounts of cash solely from individual donations. His appeal for Americans lies in his renegade attitude towards campaigning and his Obama-esque charisma which comes through in his remarkably compelling stump speeches. Even though O’Rourke ended up losing the 2018 race, he had developed enough national popularity that many were encouraging him to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire and run for president in 2020, and on March 14, that is just what O’Rourke did.
Now in a crowded field of distinct and diverse progressive voices all vying for Democratic nomination, the question Americans are now forced to ask is, behind the movement and the charisma, just what exactly does O’Rourke stand for?
In his race against Ted Cruz, O’Rourke didn’t have much policy-wise to differentiate his ideas from those of his party. Yet the game is completely different now as he revs up a campaign against well-established progressive voices like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom have taken steps towards indicating what kind of specific policies they would employ, should they be elected. This specificity is where O’Rourke tends to flounder.
As Washington Post writer Jenna Johnson noted, for many, the issues with the politician is that “[his] default position is to call for debate.” He also openly admits his lack of knowledge in certain content areas, specifically race relations, with which he noted that “he has a lot to learn about the needs and issues driving the black community.” This is generally the modus operandi for O’Rourke with issues that lie outside the realm of what all of the candidates already agree on; instead of asserting a new or specific idea, he admits a gap in his own knowledge or he suggests that the decisions be subject more so to his constituents and their own debate.
Where O’Rourke is strongest is the area around the district he once represented, specifically the border with Mexico. The El Paso native has been abundantly willing to meet President Donald Trump at the issue he brought to the forefront of American politics: immigration. O’Rourke is vehemently opposed to the wall, declaring that they only push migrants to take more dangerous risks in crossing the border. One of his passions is to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants and those that live on the border, and these stories are a major aspect of the blog which the politician kept up as he traveled about Texas after his loss to Sen. Cruz.
It is this desire to create a narrative, for others and especially for himself, which has earned him some criticism from The Guardian for narcissism driven by his white-maleness, citing specifically one quote from the politician about the 2020 election where he said, “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” This is perhaps an overreaction to the ego which is a fundamental aspect of every politician, but it is his reliance on his image as the grassroots renegade for much of his appeal which is cause for concern for those who wish to see him truly be effective in the Democratic primary. Although the election seems a long way off, O’Rourke still faces an extremely challenging task of crafting real answers to real problems, because a punk-rock attitude and a minivan will only take him so far.