Last year Beto O’Rourke surged onto the political scene as the guy who almost took down Ted Cruz in Texas. Today he is a failed presidential candidate who went from hero to zero in the polls at lightning speed. They key to understanding his remarkable decline is his bizarre and unwise decision to paint himself as the farthest left candidate in a field of loony lefties.
Many pundits, myself included, saw Beto’s entry into the race eight months ago as a bid to be taken very seriously. He had made himself a darling of Democrats, a new Kennedy with youthful vim and vigor, ready to take on the evil of Donald Trump. I recall seeing Ethan Hawke walking down the street in Brooklyn with a black Beto T-shirt on. It seemed like a movement. So how did it go so badly off the rails?
The natural role for Beto in a race that already featured Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the socialist Tweedledee and Tweedledum was to run as a moderate. At the time he announced I wrote, “With the exception of the more seasoned, but less famous Amy Klobuchar, Beto is the first candidate to fill in the moderate lane of the Democratic primary.” Boy, was I wrong.
Instead of taking the logical path of the sensible Democrat who might even take Texas, he cast himself as the wokest of the woke, the most animated hater of Donald Trump who eventually promised to confiscate American’s guns. What led him to this ill-advised decision is not clear, but it does speak to a broader trend that Democrats have to deal with.
Put bluntly, the party of Jefferson and Jackson, as it was once known, pays far too much attention to Twitter and cable news, and far too little to the actual concerns of American voters. Most Democratic voters, especially in swing states, are not hyper-concerned with gun confiscation, transgenderism for kids, stripping churches of tax-exempt status, or having taxpayers provide health insurance to people in the country illegally.
There is a reason that steady old Joe Biden is still leading in the polls despite the Harris moment, the Warren moment, and what now appears to be the Buttigieg moment. Some would argue that this is owing to Democrats compromising with themselves to choose the most electable candidate who can appeal to moderate independents and Republicans, but in fact, most Democrats are far more moderate than the current field of candidates.
Part of what happened to skew the priorities of the current crop of Democratic contenders was the 2018 election, the dominant narrative of which was woke women speaking truth to power. The rise of The Squad created a progressive frenzy in the media that almost every Democrat in the race bought into hook, line, and sinker, none more so than Beto.
One of the more interesting aspects of this phenomenon is that while the members of the Squad are racially diverse, their far-left policy proposals play best with college-educated, left-wing, white voters. This is an important ingredient of Biden’s secret sauce. Black, Hispanic, and more moderate white voters are not on board with the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or cancelling student debt.
But, importantly, those who people the newsrooms at The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post are disproportionately leftist and think their gender studies classes at Oberlin or Sarah Lawrence reflect something other than the bored observations of the privileged. What hurt Beto most, and should be a warning to those Democrats left in the race, is that he put stock in the echo chamber.
Beto pledges that he will be back, but it is hard to see where, how, or why. He flushed what was remarkable political promise down a broken toilet of absurd progressivism. The man who could have been the new Kennedy threw it away in a vain attempt to capture a zeitgeist that only really exists in San Francisco and Brooklyn. But as Woody Allen once noted, Brooklyn is not the universe.
As we bid Beto adieu, we should keep an eye out for who learns the lessons of his demise. It is no accident the semi-ascendant Mayor Pete Buttigieg has begun to strike a more moderate tone, hoping to be the primary rival of Elizabeth “I’ll give you everything for free” Warren. If he really has flicked the right blinker and is ready to drift into the moderate lane, there might just be a long road ahead of him.